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Exploring Africa
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Exploring Africa

Henry Morton Stanley, Through the Dark Continent (1878) © Royal Geographical SocietyTales of exploration usually involve courageous explorers, but what of those people who supported them? The Hidden Histories of Exploration research project brings to light the roles of indigenous peoples, local guides, interpreters and other intermediaries in exploration, giving people the chance to discover more about their remarkable contribution.

Key concepts

  • Significance of historical individuals
  • Ethics of exploration
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Contribution to knowledge


The research project sought to challenge the usually held public perception in the UK of exploration as involving tales of courageous solo (western) explorers. This was achieved by exploring the archives of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) for evidence about the local people who were also involved at the time.

Professor Felix Driver of Royal Holloway, University of London, with his co-researcher Lowri Jones sought to bring out stories of different cultures contained within the unique collections of the Society. Hidden Histories, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), used archival research of items from the Society’s collections to take a fresh look at the hidden contributions of local guides, interpreters, and other intermediaries to the history of Western exploration over three centuries.

Research techniques

The collections of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) provided an excellent research resource:

  • Their sheer scale and diversity reflects the wide geographical extent of British interest in many different parts of the world
  • As an institution closely aligned with the development of British imperial knowledge, the Society has popularly been associated with the traditional, ‘heroic’ view of exploration
  • The role of the collections in the Society’s recent efforts to open its activities to new audiences


  • A new exhibition Hidden Histories of Exploration, featuring a range of paintings, books, maps, photographs, artefacts and manuscripts from the Society archives
  • An exhibition catalogue highlighting the research in more detail
  • A website with images, audio, film and further information for researchers
  • Events related to the exhibition such as debates and lectures

Key topics and themes

  • Role of indigenous people in exploration
  • Attitudes towards indigenous people – representation and recognition by Western geographical societies
  • Ethics of exploration

Documents to download

Other downloads

The researchers

Felix Driver is Professor of Human Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. He works on the history of exploration and travel, especially through research into visual images, including sketches, maps, paintings, photographs, film and artefacts. He is currently writing a history of the Geographical Magazine, founded in 1935 by Michael Huxley.

Lowri Jones is currently a Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, working on a project on 'Black presences and the legacies of slavery and colonialism in rural Britain'. She was previously a research assistant on the Hidden Histories of Exploration research project at Royal Holloway, and completed a PhD thesis on the subject in 2010.

The research on which this resource is based was conducted at Royal Holloway, University of London, and supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Please provide feedback on these resources.

Royal Holloway, University of London Hidden Histories of Exploration

RGS-IBG links
Kenya: A changing nation teaching resources

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