Monthly Archives: March 2013

The University of Glasgow: International Story

Last Thursday (21 March 2013) saw the official launch of the University of Glasgow’s new site called the ‘International Story‘ which highlights the range of international students that have joined the University since its inception.

It’s a really useful resource put together by a team of archivists and students. It has an interactive map, you can search by country, follow editors’ highlights and there’s even (at the moment) a tab for Commonwealth countries, in light of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. I thoroughly recommend it – and it’s still expanding.

One of the aims of this blog is to explore Glasgow’s relationship with empire, especially to reconsider and re-assess this relationship in light of the forthcoming Games. Glasgow, and Scotland, were as involved and complicit in empire as those in London, and hopefully this blog will shed more light on these relations. This also means highlighting some of the positive reciprocal relations that Glasgow had with its empire and includes thinking about people from the colonies who came to Glasgow.

Richard Symonds’ book, Oxford and Empire: The Last Lost Cause? (St Martin’s Press, 1986) explores in detail the ways in which Oxford University educated men for empire, whether through the colonial service or as governors and viceroys, as well as discussing the men and women who came over from the colonies to study at the dreaming spires. Glasgow University has a similar story to tell, which would be worth exploring further. There are some interesting examples of students involved with empire in one way or another, and we hope to have more on them in a later post, but in the meantime let me point you towards some interesting figures:

James McCune Smith – a former slave who was denied admission in US universities because of his race, but was admitted to Glasgow and became the first African-American to receive a university medical degree.

Andrew Watson – born in Guyana to a former (Scottish) slave owner. He was not only the first black Scottish football player but also went on to captain the Scottish team in 1881 [comparison should be made with K. S. Ranjitsinhji, an Indian student at Cambridge who made his debut for the England cricket team in 1896 and was seen as a bit of pioneer, but Watson in fact proved that even earlier sporting teams that revelled in ‘national’ pride were willing to accept men of a different skin colour and from the colonies – does this mean their idea of ‘Britishness’ or ‘Scottishness’ was broader than we think?]

Merbai Vakil – the first female Indian graduate of Glasgow University, in 1897. In fact, in the early twentieth century, the largest group of ‘foreign’ students in total at British universities were Indian (not American, French or other) – a clear indication of the links that Britain and India had at the time.

Scotland, Lanarkshire, Glasgow University

Glasgow University in the 1890s


Remembering Livingstone: the Bicentenary of Livingstone’s Birth


‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’ So spoke Henry Morton Stanley, New York Herald journalist, 142 years ago when he encountered the missionary and explorer David Livingstone in Ujiji, a trading centre on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. The immortal phrase has somehow lived on in popular consciousness and even today is likely to provoke a wry smile. But why was this phrase ever funny at all? What is it in our cultural memory that makes us want to chuckle? Asking such a question risks the faux pas of trying to explain a joke – but I’m going to ask it nonetheless. For the Victorians, there was certainly more than a little dose of anti-Americanism involved. To many, the rather dignified introduction seemed like an American attempt to ape British manners. Here was a Yank, some laughed, overacting the part of the reserved and decorous gentleman. No doubt this was provoked in part by British jealousy that an American journalist should have succeeded in ‘finding’ the ‘lost’ Dr Livingstone where British expeditions had failed. Of course, part of the amusement was that such an introduction seemed far too formal for a meeting in Africa. Wouldn’t the two men have been so delighted to see each other that formalities might have been laid to one side? Surely, thought the Victorians, this wasn’t a time for niceties! One can see the point. Nevertheless, there’s perhaps another layer at work here. Such a greeting was deemed out of place not least because of contemporary notions about Africa itself. These standards of civility were not expected in such a ‘barbarous’ location. Indeed, the joke relied on an imagined encounter between two white men, culturally isolated and starved of civilised company. As Clare Pettitt suggests, it thus had an underlying racial logic. The joke presumed (pardon the pun) that Africa was a place of savagery, and was built on the failure to appreciate the complex modes of ‘etiquette and civility’ operating in the African societies through which Livingstone journeyed. It was, however, Livingstone’s own understanding of such codes that enabled him to travel successfully and safely through so many different parts of the continent.

There are surely other ways of ‘explaining’ the joke, so do feel free to leave your comments below. For now though, here are a couple of ‘Dr Livingstone, I Presume?’ clips for you to enjoy. The first is from the 1939 Hollywood blockbuster, Stanley and Livingstone, and the second is from a well-known TV show….

My thoughts above are provoked by current events in Scotland, since this month marks the bicentenary of David Livingstone’s birth. This has already been celebrated in a number of events in Scotland and the rest of the UK. At the National Museum of Scotland, there is currently a major exhibition on his life and work (,_i_presume.aspx). This ends on 7th April, so there isn’t long left to see it! Our own university hosted a symposium on Livingstone and tropical disease, as well as a public lecture by former First Minister of Scotland, Lord McConnell. The university also produced a short film on Livingstone’s life and legacy, which you can watch here:

There are still many other events to come! On Friday 15th March, Professor John MacKenzie is speaking at the National Museum of Scotland, and a conference on ‘Livingstone’s Legacy in Africa and Scotland’ is scheduled for the next day in New College, Edinburgh. As well as a memorial service in Westminster Abbey (19th March), the events planned range from performance pieces to African drumming workshops. A full list of the activities, exhibitions and talks can be found on the ‘Livingstone 200’ website:

The extent of all this activity may be surprising, particularly for a figure so integrally connected to the British Empire. Indeed, he is almost alone among imperial heroes in being publicly remembered in a positive fashion. Part of this is possible, of course, because of Livingstone’s favourable remembrance in Africa. Where most colonial place names were removed following independence, those connected with Livingstone ­– Blantyre and Livingstonia in Malawi, for instance – have been retained. But while this certainly indicates that Livingstone is an exceptional case, I wonder if the current celebrations are proving quite selective. He’s seamlessly linked to a narrative of ‘development’ (as the forerunner of the Scotland-Malawi Partnership), but there’s less talk about his connection to imperialism. This is not to deny that Livingstone is worthy of commemoration: I, for one, think he is. But I also think there needs to be greater reflection on our patterns of remembrance. We might simply pause to ask why Livingstone continues to attract such attention today. What politics are involved in his current memorialisation? And how should we go about responsibly remembering a figure like Livingstone, who is so bound up with our imperial past?

Archives Relating to Empire in Glasgow

Established by wealthy tobacco merchant Stephe...

Established by wealthy tobacco merchant Stephen Mitchell, the Mitchell Library is now one of the largest public reference libraries in Europe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first speaker for the Glasgow Colonial and Postcolonial Group in January 2013 was Alastair Tough who talked about colonial archives in Africa. We had an interesting discussion about the management of colonial archives and oral history, but what material is on offer in Glasgow that sheds light on its relationship with empire and status as ‘second city of empire’?

Apart from the physical remnants of its relationship with empire, in terms of street names and buildings in the Merchant City built through money from empire and slavery (another blog post on this and Stephen Mullen’s work forthcoming), the main depositories are the various university archives in Glasgow and the Mitchell Library.

The Mitchell Library holds local newspapers which are a rich resource. They also hold the Glasgow City Archives which have the records of organisations such as the Clyde Port Authority and Port Medical Authority. They also have church archives and any number of local associations that probably had connections with the wider empire.

Glasgow University Archives also hold shipbuilding archives and business archives relating to empire such as Fraser’s and the James Finlay archives. And Glasgow Caledonian University Archives have various trade union materials as well. Not to mention student records which show how citizens of empire travelled to Glasgow. Meanwhile, Glasgow Museums have material on their imperial exhibitions.

So, there’s a lot out there. Has anyone used any of these archives or know of any others in Glasgow? What have your experiences been like? What is still missing?