Travel writing within the mid nineteenth century was one of the most useful forms of ‘geographical knowledge’ and primary agents of British imperialism. This was due to narrative accounts being embedded with the ideologies of the subsequent western authors and explorers who constructed them (Pratt, 1992; Youngs, 2006). Driver (2000:27) furthermore adds that the “culture of exploration was heterogeneous”, with various situated knowledges produced from the practice as a result. This is because, whilst also providing a narrative account to western audiences of the experience and details of expeditions, the knowledge produced from travel writing subconsciously aided the political, commercial and economic interests of the imperial powers throughout this period. For instance, these writings helped to locate and discover unknown regions, thus providing Europeans knowledge for the first time of these distant and undiscovered lands throughout the nineteenth century.
This essay will provide a critical analysis of a colonial discourse, reflecting on a nineteenth century expedition within Africa at the beginning of the era of European exploration. The primary source is entitled, Records of Captain Clapperton’s Last Expedition to Africa, with the subsequent adventures of the author v.1 and v.2 (1967), a newer edition from a previous work published in 1830. This source will be analysed amidst both the relevant literatures and themes of the module, which is the relationship between geographical knowledge, ideology and imperialism. The structure and scope of the essay will comprise of a number of sections which cover the main themes represented within the discourse. Within the first of these sections, a discussion of the representations of natives and in particular how they are conceptualised as ‘racially inferior’ to western civilization will be given. A specific emphasis will be placed upon how this practice helped to legitimise imperial expansionism by conceptualising them as an ‘other’ and in need of civilization. The second section will provide a discussion of the trope of heroism in relation to how writing of this period was a gendered discourse, used with the intention of demonstrating that explorers were the ‘discoverers’ of unknown lands for fame and glory, as well as providing practical knowledge for empire. However, most importantly this analysis and discussion will illustrate how the source chosen evoked ‘geographical knowledge’, which furthermore helped shape and educate the geographical imaginations of western Europeans, as well as simultaneously legitimising the interests of the British Empire.
The conceptualisation of colonial bodies and racial differences between the non-west and west remains to be a key theme which is clearly evident within this colonial discourse. This is especially evident in relation to how native Africans and their subsequent customs and cultures are depicted from a western standpoint as ‘inferior’ and ‘barbaric’. These representations furthermore helped to produce ‘geographical knowledge’ which filtered through to western audiences, educating them of the lifestyles and practices of natives encountered who differed and remained inferior to more ‘civilized’ western European practices. As a result, this knowledge and conceptualisation helped to appropriate the expansionism of the British Empire, from this analysis this can be seen within the interior of central and western Africa.
There is clear evidence of power and authority shown throughout the narrative, through the language and rhetoric of expression used to conceptualise native Africans encountered throughout the expedition. In particular, Lander frequently conceptualises the natives in a variety of forms through encounters with them. For instance, the Falatahs, a native tribe were depicted as “semi-barbarians” (Lander, v.2, 1967: 33) and