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  • Expropriating The Great South and Exporting "Local Color":Global and Hemispheric Imaginaries of the First Reconstruction
  • Jennifer Rae Greeson (bio)

1. Domestic Africa

In 1872, the magazine editor Josiah Gilbert Holland found himself in something of a predicament. Just over a year earlier, he had persuaded the powerful publisher Charles Scribner to discontinue two of the magazines published by his firm and to consolidate their subscription rolls behind Holland's bold new venture: the filially named Scribner's Monthly, a magazine that aspired to the moral and literary authority of the Atlantic; the illustration quantity and quality of not just Harper's, but the popular London magazines; and the subscription rates to surpass all of its "high-toned" competitors (Peckham 189).1 But now Charles Scribner had died unexpectedly at age 50. Control of his firm had passed to his young sons, whose dispensation toward the upstart magazine was unclear, and Holland had failed so far to generate much notice for Scribner's Monthly at home or abroad or indeed to produce an increase in circulation substantially beyond that of the 40,000 subscriptions the elder Scribner had handed him in November 1870. Holland needed a major editorial innovation that would catapult his little-noticed new magazine to the position of prominence suited to the flagship periodical of a major publishing house; he needed a revolution in content that quickly would push his circulation closer to the goal of 100,000 he optimistically had proposed to Scribner pére.2

Holland seems to have taken inspiration at this critical juncture from the great US periodical coup of the moment. British expatriate and Civil War veteran Henry Morton Stanley, traveling on assignment for the New York Herald, had in November 1871 "discovered" [End Page 496] (xix) the incommunicado British missionary David Livingstone in interior Africa (present-day Tanzania).3 Stanley's "expedition" (xxiii) into "darkest Africa" transfixed audiences around the English-speaking world, despite its origin as a bald publicity stunt designed by Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett to garner a European readership for his newspaper.4 Stanley's climactic meeting with Livingstone was dubbed the scoop of the century by Bennett's paper, and it indeed represented an American usurpation of the most popular form of British imperial travel writing in the 1860s and 70s: the interior Africa exploration narrative. The Herald stunt arrogated the authority of the great empire on matters of African "discovery," figuratively transferring that authority to the US—itself a former British colony just emerging from a political and military convulsion that almost had disassembled it. While the US had no immediate material claim in the scramble for Africa among the European powers, Stanley and Bennett momentarily had bested Britain on the cultural field of empire, and both European and US readers took notice. Indeed, the Scribner firm rushed to secure the US rights to publish the book version of Stanley's dispatches, How I Found Livingstone, as an over-700-page, copiously illustrated volume produced by subscription in late 1872.

As he watched his own publisher angle for a piece of the Stanley sensation, Holland began plotting a parallel "expedition" (King, "Expedition" 105) for Scribner's Monthly. Channeling Bennett's already oft-quoted charge to Stanley to "[d]raw a thousand pounds now . . . and when you have finished that, draw another thousand, and so on; but, FIND LIVINGSTONE" (Stanley xviii), Holland laid out "an enterprise involving an amount of labor and expense unprecedented in popular magazine literature . . . [with n]either pains nor money . . . spared to make it all that we promise it should be" (248). And as with the Stanley expedition, Holland projected that a year-long series of dispatches to the magazine would culminate in "a beautiful volume, in which the material will be newly arranged . . . and offered to the subscriptions of the public, not only in America, but in Great Britain and nearly all the British colonies" (248). On Bennett's model, in other words, Holland laid out an expedition that both would boost magazine subscriptions as it unfolded and would consolidate the sensation it generated in more enduring, higher profit-generating book form at its end. He followed Bennett as well in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-4365
Print ISSN
0896-7148
Pages
pp. 496-520
Launched on MUSE
2006-08-30
Open Access
No
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