‘Taken captive by the mystery of the Great River’ : towards an historical geography of British geography and Atlantic slavery
Lambert, David. (2009) ‘Taken captive by the mystery of the Great River’ : towards an historical geography of British geography and Atlantic slavery. Journal of Historical Geography, Vol.35 (No.1). pp. 44-65. ISSN 0305-7488Full text not available from this repository.
Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhg.2008.05.017
By examining the case of James MacQueen (1778–1870), this paper initiates a research agenda that contributes to what David N. Livingstone has argued remains the most pressing task for historians of geography: to write ‘the historical geography of geography’. Born in Scotland in 1778, MacQueen was one of the many ‘arm-chair’ geographers whose efforts at synthesising contemporary and historical sources were a significant feature of the encounter between Europe and the rest of the world. Indeed, although he never visited Africa, his speculations about the course and termination of the River Niger turned out to be broadly correct. What makes MacQueen a particularly significant figure was the original source of his theory: enslaved Africans in a Caribbean plantation-colony. In this light, a remark that MacQueen's imagination was ‘taken captive by the mystery of the Great River’ carries a dark double-meaning, because ‘captive’ knowledge was the very source of MacQueen's interest in African geography. Beginning with MacQueen's time in Grenada, the paper explores a series of personal relations, textual traces and West African ethno-histories to reveal how his geographical knowledge and expertise were bound up with Atlantic slavery. This shows not only how the colonial economy, centred on the Caribbean, underwrote the production of geographical knowledge about Africa, but also how British geographical discourse and practice might be probed for traces of Atlantic slavery and enslaved African lives. More generally, the case of James MacQueen illuminates a broader field of relationships between Atlantic slavery, West African exploration, and the development of modern British geography in the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. Examining these relationships is key to writing a ‘historical geography of British geography and Atlantic slavery’ and contributes to postcolonial histories of the discipline by revealing the tangled relationships that bound geography and slavery, knowledge and subjugation, that which ‘captivates’ and those held ‘captive’.
|Item Type:||Journal Article|
|Subjects:||D History General and Old World > D History (General)|
|Divisions:||Faculty of Arts > History|
|Journal or Publication Title:||Journal of Historical Geography|
|Page Range:||pp. 44-65|
|Access rights to Published version:||Restricted or Subscription Access|
Actions (login required)