TR's African Expedition: A Scientific Endeavor

Aug 30, 2017

This summer the TR Center has eight interns working across the U.S. and from Scotland. Each intern is producing a digital humanities project. Jennifer Hayner explores the Roosevelt-Smithsonian African Expedition and the ideas of TR as Conservationist and Hunter.

At my internship for the Theodore Roosevelt Center, I learned a lot about Theodore Roosevelt as a rough rider fighting in the battle of San Juan Hill, and as our president fighting against trusts. When it became time to consider our research question for our digital humanities project, I decided I really wanted to learn about the Roosevelt-Smithsonian African Expedition of 1909-1910. The question I posed to myself was this: In many circles, Theodore Roosevelt is considered a conservationist. How does hunting and killing over 500 big game animals in Africa fit with this conclusion? In order to help answer the question, I decided to create a digital humanities visualization project using a digital humanities software called Story Maps JS from the Knight Lab to create a digital map of the African Expedition, which took place from March 1909 to March 1910. I combined text, photos, and other types of media that link to the 1909 Edward Hertslet map of Africa by treaty, so that the user feels like they are on the safari with Teddy and his son Kermit.

I got to know the Roosevelt’s through letters they sent and received, and the photos that were taken on the safari. I believe they viewed the expedition as a purely scientific endeavor. Roosevelt, an avid nature lover, states at the end of his autobiographical book African Game Trails, p. 534, “…we shot at nothing that was not used either as a museum specimen or for meat – usually for both purposes. We were in hunting grounds practically as good as any that have ever existed; but we did not kill a tenth, nor a hundredth part of what we might have killed had we been willing.” While my question may be one that is not easily answered, I know Roosevelt did a lot for science by bringing home over 20,000 natural history specimens that took over eight years to catalog. While many of the animals mounted for exhibition at the Smithsonian remained on view for most of the twentieth century, the only one that remains today is the square-lipped, or White Rhinoceros.

Roosevelt-Smithsonian African Expedition Map 


Posted by Jennifer Hayner on Aug 30, 2017 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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