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It’s the Geographer in me!

A gem of a temporary exhibition has popped up at  the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh entitled Dr. Livingstone, I presume? which is running till the 7th of April. Showcasing a chronological view of Livingstone’s explorations, the exhibition marks 200 years since David Livingstone’s birth in Blantyre, Scotland.

Medicine horn

Antelope medicine horn from Nyasaland.

On display for viewers to marvel over, is a range of objects such as an antelope’s horn, fragments of a hippopotamus’s jaw, a customised Muzzleloader gun and arm bones deformed by a lion attack. These interesting pieces are not only fascinating, but are connected to Livingstone directly and his travels, therefore providing a personal portrait of his life and work. With a collection of approximately 100 artefacts, documents and art works, this is a chance to see some rare treasures.

Photograph of David Livingstone

The Victorian explorer’s life is told from the very beginning as viewers learn of his home life in Scotland, how he became the first European to cross the African continent; and his efforts to abolish the slave trade, share his Christian beliefs and develop legitimate trading relationships in the countries through which he travelled (National Museums Scotland website).

Seeing as I did a Joint Honours degree at University which combined both the History of Art with Geography, I cannot help but get a little excited about this exhibition. Here the biographical history of such a famous character is on show in multi-sensory and theatrical displays.

Gold sample sent to the Museum by David Livingstone from Mozambique

Gold sample sent to the Museum by David Livingstone from Mozambique.

The exhibition begins with a billboard advertisement for a lecture on Livingstone’s African adventures. Visitors then move into the gallery space where a film introduces past and present Africa, comparing and contrasting the Victorian representation with that of modern Malawi. Further ahead, Malcolm Stewart’s portrait of the Victorian missionary explorer dominates the gallery space- a calm yet determined figure is presented to visitors, his gaze thrown ahead and away from the viewer and lost in thought as he contemplates future endeavors.

Malcolm Stewart’s portrait of David Livingstone.

A display showcasing Livingstone’s well-travelled heavy trunk sits in front of a wall graphic of Thomas Baines’s panoramic view of the Victoria Falls, Zambesi which captivates the inner explorer in all of us. I like the fact that the trunk is dented, worn and is almost etched with Livingstone’s journeys over time.

The exhibition continues with display cases of objects. Although more interpretation could be used to bring these artefacts to life, the variety and quality of these items still manages to intrigue the viewer. Themed sections mark periods of interest in the vast array of engagements Livingstone was involved with including ‘First journeys,’ ‘Cotton and Trade,’ and ‘Livingstone’s Last Travels.’

The final section looks at Livingstone’s legacy- here a myriad of clips from Hollywood films, an adventure board game, postage stamps and a recent £10 bank note, highlights the ever-pervading figure of geography, missionary work and exploration who still lives on in our imaginations today.

Adventure board game.


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