In 1859, a young Welsh deckhand named John Rowlands jumped ship in New Orleans and began his transformation into the famed African explorer Henry Morton Stanley. Reveling in the freedoms and opportunities associated with life in the then-booming Crescent City, the ambitious young man soon took on a new identity as the self-styled adopted son of one of the city’s prominent cotton brokers. As his picaresque autobiography later recounted, his dramatic experiences in New Orleans and, later, on the Mississippi and its plantations were formative ones. Indeed, as he later asserted, his New Orleans experiences shaped him into the man who would explore the Congo and Nile Rivers, launch the famed hunt for Scottish missionary Dr. Livingstone, and help to create the enduring image of “Darkest Africa.”
This experimental, multimedia session – combining aspects of the traditional panel, roundtable, film screening and teaching session -- will examine the place of New Orleans and the Mississippi in the controversial life and legend of Henry Morton Stanley. Though the collaborative spirit and tone of the roundtable format will govern the full session, three illustrated scholarly presentations will begin the proceedings. Noted Stanley scholar and exploration expert James Newman (Maxwell School, Syracuse University) will discuss the historiographical debates and controversies surrounding Stanley’s life and career, and reflect on Newman’s experience writing biographies of Stanley and other explorers for multiple publics. (He will later serve as commentator for the overall session.) Stanley Archives historian Mathilde Leduc-Grimaldi (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium) will discuss newly-emerging archival collections and the role they are playing in the shifting interpretations of Stanley. She will discuss the challenges of representing both his life and colonial-era African “exploration” for post-colonial publics, with special attention paid to her design of the permanent Henry Morton Stanley exhibit at the RMCA in Belgium. James Mokhiber (Department of History, University of New Orleans) will introduce Stanley’s rich but deeply flawed “Autobiography,” and its account of his New Orleans sojourn and Mississippi travels. He will focus his remarks on Stanley’s encounter with race and slavery in antebellum New Orleans and on the plantations he visited.
Mokhiber will then introduce the “Becoming Henry Morton Stanley” (BHMS) project, initiated at the University of New Orleans in 2010 under a new and innovative grant intended to promote mentoring and research collaboration between faculty and high-achieving undergraduate students. Three team members – current graduate students Amber Zu-Bolton and Douglas Marziale, and recent graduate Drue Hardegree – who have participated in the project since its inception will introduce and present the research and work of the team to date. They will introduce a segment of the team’s documentary film examining the preservation of “Stanley House,” now located – after its costly move and restoration – in the city’s Lower Garden District. They will also present the digital research tools, internet resources and teaching plans developed as part of the project. Audience members who pre-register (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org) may accompany the panel on a subsequent carriage tour of Stanley-related sites.