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Livingstone's Manuscript Legacy
David Livingstone was a prolific writer. In addition to his private journals and his published accounts of his explorations in his Missionary travels and researches in South Africa (1857) and Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries (1865), Livingstone wrote well in excess of 2000 letters. These surviving materials are scattered in archives across the world and are held in over eighty institutions and by an unknown number of private owners.
For almost a century, locating Livingstone's surviving manuscripts was an arduous task requiring weeks of work in archives around the world. Thankfully, finding his writings today is markedly easier owing to the publication of G.W. Clendennen and I.C. Cunningham, David Livingstone: a catalogue of documents (Edinburgh: National Library of Scotland, 1979) and I.C. Cunningham, David Livingstone: a catalogue of documents: a supplement (Edinburgh: National Library of Scotland, 1985). These two works list all the documents that were found by the researchers before 1985. While letters continue to be discovered, Clendennen and Cunningham's catalogues remain the essential guide to finding these materials.
The bulk of the Livingstone's manuscripts and letters are held in a small number of archives in Britain and Africa, notably:
- National Archives of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe
- Livingstone Museum, Livingstone, Zambia
- Brenthurst Library, Johannesburg
- School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
- Royal Geographical Society
- The British Library, London
- Rhodes House Library, Bodleian Library, Oxford
- David Livingstone Centre at Blantyre
However, the most significant custodian of Livingstone's manuscripts is the National Library of Scotland. They have the largest collection of Livingstone materials in the world. Their holdings have recently been increased by the acquisition of the documents in the John Murray Archive.
It is hoped that the manuscripts and letters in all collections of whatever size can eventually be incorporated into Livingstone Online as part of our endeavour to make Livingstone's writings freely available online. We would appreciate hearing from anyone knowing of any Livingstone material not described in our catalogue.
The Clendennen & Cunningham Catalogues
The indispensable resources for locating David Livingstone's correspondence are G.W. Clendennen and I.C. Cunningham, David Livingstone: a catalogue of documents (Edinburgh: National Library of Scotland, 1979) and I.C. Cunningham, David Livingstone: a catalogue of documents: a supplement (Edinburgh: National Library of Scotland, 1985), hereafter abbreviated C&C and C&C Supp respectively. These works aimed to provide a comprehensive list of Livingstone's letters and manuscript writings.
The David Livingstone Documentation Project was formed in the 1970s in Edinburgh. These catalogues were the outcome of the project. They are arranged chronologically with various pieces of information including size and length and, where known, the location of the originals (some are only known as printed versions). The supplement contains a list of letters discovered after the original Clendennen & Cunningham catalogue was published and also provides information on such matters as changes in the whereabouts of letters in the original list.
The David Livingstone Documentation Project has come to an end but the Livingstone Online team is in contact with the editors and have received permission to reproduce the catalogue online as a fully searchable database of Livingstone's Letters. The current version of the database is a preliminary release. It will be continually updated over the coming few years. We are therefore anxious to hear of any letters from Livingstone not in our database or of any whose whereabouts have changed since the publication of the supplement to the Clendennen & Cunningham catalogues in 1985. Information about Livingstone letters can be sent to Christopher Lawrence at ucgalaw(at)ucl.ac.uk or Adrian Wisnicki at awisnicki(at)yahoo.com.
View the catalogue of Livingstone's letters