British imperialism as natural science: The Royal Geographical Society’s 1856 expedition to find the source of Africa’s White Nile River

This is a paper I wrote for a history class at Augsburg. The assignment was to choose a popular movie as a secondary source for a historical event or character. I chose “Mountains of the Moon” the story of the exploration for the source of the White Nile river in 1858 by the British Royal Geographical Society. Sir Richard Burton was an amazing character of history to research.

In the 1850’s central Africa remained largely unknown and undiscovered to Europeans. The success of locating the source of Africa’s longest river, The Nile, would define Great Britain as the conqueror of a mystery shrouded for millennia, escaping the likes of Alexander the Great and Napoleon. Sir Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke, great explorers officers in the British Army, set forth and completed a journey that would forever change the world. In 1856, the primary reason to invest in the exploration of central Africa and locate the source of the White Nile was to claim the region for the British Empire. Royal Geographical Society expeditions may have departed England in the interest of progressing natural science, but they returned under a banner of conquest.


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