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Dr. Livingstone’s Lost Diary: Technology Opens a Window on History

Evening Seminar

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0989
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Drive, SW
Metro: Smithsonian Mall Exit (Blue/Orange)
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In 1871, explorer, physician, and missionary David Livingstone captured some of his most important observations of the African slave trade in a small field diary. He was stranded in Central Africa, with only old newspaper sheets and ink made from berry juice available to him, so he improvised to create his diary. Even a few years later, his words were already illegible. After Livingstone’s death in 1873, the accounts that could be deciphered were censored by his family and publishers to glorify his reputation and cater to Victorian stereotypes of “darkest Africa,” or simply left unpublished.

One hundred forty years later, Adrian Wisnicki, director of the Livingstone Spectral Imaging project, and Michael B. Toth, ‎president and chief technology officer at R. B. Toth Associates in Oakton, Virginia, led a team of imaging scientists to help decipher the diary. Drawing together an international group of scholars, scientists, computer programmers, and others, the collaborative project used spectral imaging technology to reveal the full text of the diary. The writings provide significant new insights into Livingstone's own biography, the history of the British Empire, and 19th-century African history. Wisnicki and Toth highlight the results of the project and share stories of this intrepid explorer.

Other Connections

Compare a page from Livingstone’s 1871 field diary in its original condition and after spectral imaging revealed its long-invisible contents.