Primary Source Review of “Journal of the discovery of the source of the Nile” by John Hanning Speke

In his book Journal of the discovery of the source of the Nile, John Hanning Speke described the daily trials and tribulations of the journey in search for the source of Africa’s Nile River. Intended as an essay for the Royal Geographic Society of England and to his professional peers, Speke’s scientific record keeping and empirical observations also served as a catalog of the people, flora and fauna, and geography of eastern Africa to the greater public. Remarkable in scope and rich in thought, the book chronicles not only Speke’s daily determination to pursue the ultimate goal of finding the lake that acts as the source for Africa’s longest river, but also his insights as to how and why his observations should be considered correct.  Speke makes considerable effort to explain the reasoning behind his thoughts, whether they are based on theory or fact, which in turn produces a volume of work that is not simply a journal of scientific and measured observation, but also one that provides a window into the mind of a 19th century educated British scientist, writer and explorer.  It is apparent Speke considered himself to be in the incredibly enviable position of not just reporting what he saw in Africa, but instead responsible for injecting his moral, religious and cultural beliefs into the passages and descriptions.  Speke was one of the first Europeans to visit these regions and meet these tribes of Africa and so it was important to carry with him the Christian, political and technological values of his people.

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