Stanley: View on Africa

Henry Morton Stanley: View on Africa. Analysis of a travelogue. Department of Environmental Sciences. Cultural Geogaphy,

Wageningen 2014


A tourism based perspective on early explorers in Africa and their narratives may be seen as interesting and positive contributions to present society, geographical knowledge and travels. However, there is also quite an opposite way of regarding the explorer legacy, namely in relation to colonial practices. A good example of this critical perspective on exploration is the article “Fear of a black planet: anarchy, anxieties and postcolonial travel to Africa” by Kevin Dunn (2007). This article refutes the view of explorers as heroic, adventurous discoverers that made a great contribution to science and understanding of the present. Instead it emphasizes the colonial construction and consumption of African otherness through explorer’s travelogues, as Dunn claims that European colonial policies were “greatly informed by the travelogues of the great explorers” (Dunn, 2007, p. 484).

Critical theorists describe Stanley for example as a proponent of commercial and political intervention in Africa, whose goal was to clear the path for commerce, often by exploration or by warfare (Driver, 1991, p. 137).

However, Dunn made these statements about the nature of Stanley’s travelogues without properly substantiating these claims to his readers in this article, in which he only quoted one short sentence from Stanley’s travelogues, namely: “All is nature, large ample, untouched and apparently unvisited by man” from the travelogue ‘The Congo and the Founding of its Free State, Vol I’ (Stanley, 1885, p. 93).

This led to the research project exploring how Stanley described both the people and the scenery of Africa in his travelogue ‘How I found Livingstone’ (1872), by conducting an extensive textual analysis, and subsequently to assess to what extent his writings should be seen as an incentive for Western colonial practices.

Read full report: Stanley’s view on Africa