Livingstone's 1871 Field Diary

A Multispectral Critical Edition

Initial History: Locating the Manuscript
Adrian S. Wisnicki first took interest in the manuscript of Livingstone’s 1871 Field Diary while researching a book chapter on Victorian travel to Nyangwe, the village in which Livingstone wrote most of the diary. The Livingstone Catalogue of Documents (1979) placed the manuscript in the John Murray Archive in London, but further enquiries revealed that the National Library of Scotland (NLS), which now owns the Murray Archive, had only low-quality photocopies of the manuscript made in the 1970s.
Figures 1, 2. The David Livingstone Centre, Blantyre, Scotland (top),
and the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, reading room (bottom).
The Catalogue also noted that the museum based at Livingstone’s childhood home in Blantyre, the Scottish National Memorial to David Livingstone (also known as the David Livingstone Centre [DLC]), had previously owned the manuscript. As a result, Wisnicki next visited the DLC in June 2009 and – thanks to the efforts of Anne Martin, volunteer archivist at the DLC – located the second half of the manuscript, those pages held under DLC shelfmark 297b. The whereabouts of the remaining pages remained a mystery. Wisnicki also discovered that the manuscript was illegible, with only some 15% of Livingstone’s text being visible. Livingstone's improvised ink had faded, while the newsprint over which he had written remained prominent, thereby obscuring the handwritten text. Despite these issues, Wisnicki had a hunch that the text could be recovered. 
Figures 3, 4. David Livingstone Centre, Card Index Entry,
297b, recto (left) and verso (right). Download images as a pdf file.
Contacting the Archimedes Team and Visit to Blantyre
Wisnicki queried L-SHARP, the listserv of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing, and asked for help in reading the Livingstone’s writing. The email caught the attention of Will Noel, Curator of Manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Noel forwarded Wisnicki’s email to the Archimedes Palimpsest spectral imaging team who then contacted Wisnicki. The Archimedes imaging team took interest in the diary because it offered the opportunity to apply spectral imaging and processing techniques developed to study older, parchment-based palimpsests to a more modern, paper-based document. Christopher Lawrence, director of Livingstone Online, the main internet resource for Livingstone’s writings, encouraged such a collaborative project and offered to publish the results through his site.
Figures 5, 6. Homepages: Archimedes Palimpsest
(left), and Livingstone Online (right).
As a result, two representatives of the Archimedes imaging team, Program Manager Mike Toth and Data Manager Doug Emery, joined Wisnicki, Debbie Harrison (medical humanities specialist and Wisnicki’s colleague at Birkbeck College), and Sharon Messenger (then research assistant at Livingstone Online) in visiting the DLC in mid October 2009. The group met with representatives of the DLC, including trustees, staff, and representatives from the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), to discuss the project and view the manuscript. The group took a small sample of the laminate used on the manuscript leaves for assessment at the U.S. Library of Congress and comparison with other spectrally imaged laminated documents. The group also collected some sample spectral images of a few leaves to validate the potential of spectral imaging to reveal Livingstone’s text. They collected the images in a darkened room by using a small 5 MegaPixel color camera taped to an overhead projector arm and a handheld light source with UV, red, green, yellow and blue lights.
Figures 7, 8, 9, 10. Clockwise from upper left: Harrison and
Wisnicki, DLC; Toth and Emery, DLC; montage of low-tech spectral
images; Emery and Stuart Whittaker (Retail Manager, DLC).
Funding and the Missing Diary Pages
Initial contact between Wisnicki (residing first in London, then New York City, and now Indiana, Pennsylvania) and Harrison (London), and the Archimedes imaging team (Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Rochester, New York; Maui, Hawaii) resulted in extensive follow-up discussion by telephone, Skype, and email regarding a possible collaboration. The group also decided to apply to the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant. Mike Phelps, Executive Director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, offered to have his organization serve as the grantee organization and himself as administrator, and the team submitted a formal application to the NEH on 6 October 2009. The team also submitted an application to the British Academy for a Small Research Grant on 20 February 2010.
During late 2009 and early 2010, Anne Martin continued her efforts at the DLC in locating the remaining pages of the 1871 Field Diary. The pages had not been catalogued properly, but Martin’s perseverance resulted not only in the rediscovery of the missing pages (those now under DLC shelfmark 297c) but also in the recovery of several pages of the Bambarre Field Diary (1870-71), which she and Wisnicki had not been able to locate during Wisnicki’s initial visit to Blantyre in June 2009 (the pages now under 297d and 297e).
Figure 11. Anne Martin with the 1871 Field Diary in the DLC archives.
Livingstone’s Letter from Bambarre
Simultaneously, in late 2009 Elizabeth Upper, a graduate student of Cambridge University, contacted Livingstone Online on behalf of Peter Beard, the American photographer. Beard and his wife Nejma offered to make available for study a previously unpublished Livingstone letter from their personal collection in New York City. By a striking coincidence, Livingstone had composed this letter during the same period as the Bambarre and Nyangwe Field Diaries, using the same improvised techniques.
More fortuitously still, Wisnicki, who was then a research consultant for Livingstone Online, had himself just moved to New York City and was residing a mere 8 miles away from the letter. Wisnicki visited the Peter Beard Studio to view the letter and eventually arranged for its transport to the Walters Art Museum, where the letter was spectrally imaged in early 2010 during a separately funded palimpsest imaging project. On 2 July 2010, the team formally announced the start up of The David Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project with the publication of this letter in a multispectral critical edition as Livingstone's Letter from Bambarre. That edition then became the prototype and template for the current critical edition.
Documents for Download
  1. Grant narrative: U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant, submitted 6 October 2009
  2. David Livingstone Centre: card index entry, shelfmark 297b
Project Planning