2013: The Year of David Livingstone

By MacKenzie, John M. | African Research & Documentation, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

2013: The Year of David Livingstone


MacKenzie, John M., African Research & Documentation


The first minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, delivered his 2012 Christmas message in front of a portrait of David Livingstone at the exhibition in the National Museum of Scotland. Salmond stressed the values and achievements of the great Scot and suggested that they should energise Scots to fresh accomplishments in the future. This adoption of Livingstone as a heroic ideal to be followed in the present symbolically heralded the year of events, conferences, publications and web developments for the bicentennial year.

This report summarises the extraordinarily diverse way in which Livingstone, born on 19th March 1813, has been commemorated in a variety of different communities, academic, museum, public, medical, and religious - in both Scotland and in Africa. There was an exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland with an accompanying book edited by Sarah Worden (reviewed elsewhere in this issue). A wreath-laying ceremony, with wreaths laid by three of Livingstone's great grandchildren and by the President of Malawi, took place in Westminster Abbey on the actual date of his birth, followed by a reception at the Scotland Office, Dover House in Whitehall, hosted by the Secretary of State for Scotland. There was a ceremony at the birthplace in Blantyre, Lanarkshire. All three of the latter events were attended by Her Excellency the President of Malawi, Mrs. Joyce Banda. Malawi has indeed been prominent throughout these celebrations, perhaps to the slight detriment of Zambia and Botswana, the two other countries with which Livingstone was closely connected. This reflects the Scotland-Malawi partnership being promoted by the Scottish government and there is indeed going to be a Livingstone exhibition in Blantyre, Malawi later in the year.

On the lecturing front, there was a well-attended bicentennial commemorative lecture in the auditorium of the National Museum of Scotland (delivered by myself) which analysed Livingstone's relationship to imperialism, always a contentious area (I suggested that he was the 'patron saint' of imperialism in Africa rather than its 'prophet and advocate', that he could never have anticipated what actually happened in the Scramble for Africa). Later in the year (after this has been written), Professor John McCracken, the leading historian of Malawi, has been invited by the EU office of the Scottish Government to deliver a David Livingstone commemorative lecture in Brussels, while Professor Michael Barrett, Professor of Biomedical Parasitology at Glasgow University, will be lecturing on Livingstone and Scotland's Encounter with Tropical Diseases at the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre.

Livingstone has additionally been well commemorated in publications. There have been any number of newspaper and magazine articles (many of highly variable quality would perhaps be the politest way to sum them up), while the biography by Tim Jeal (first published on the centennial of Livingstone's death in 1973) was republished in a new edition. It has to be said, however, that this biography is not much liked by Livingstone admirers, not least because it ignores Livingstone's achievements in the fields of medicine, science, ethnography and philology. There will be a special edition of the Journal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, guest edited by Justin Livingstone. The New Statesman published an excellent article on Livingstone's medical achievements by Michael Barrett. Slightly bizarrely, but very agreeably, I was given this article by the Emeritus Professor of Medicine of St. Andrews University while on a flight between Livingstone, Zambia and Johannesburg.

There have also been two major developments in Livingstone archival retrieval systems. One has been the spectral imaging project developed by Adrian Wisnicki and others, which was recently reviewed by me in this journal. Another is the splendid Livingstone Online, which is going to prove to be a truly invaluable resource for all scholars, www. …

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