Through the pleistocene: Nature and race in theodore Roosevelt's African game trails Book Chapter

Neumann, RP. (2011). Through the pleistocene: Nature and race in theodore Roosevelt's African game trails . 43-72.

cited authors

  • Neumann, RP


  • On a summery March morning in 1909, former president Theodore Roosevelt stood on the deck of the German ocean liner Hamburg as preparations for its departure from the Hoboken, New Jersey, pier were completed. In the crush of thousands assembled to see him off, the gilt buttons had been cut from his Rough Rider overcoat, and his hat had been knocked from his head. He waved to the raucous crowd of well-wishers one last time before ducking into his specially fitted "imperial suite."1 His son Kermit, three Smithsonian scientists, a double-barreled Holland & Holland rifle (dubbed the "Big Stick"), and two tons of baggage accompanied Roosevelt on board. They were bound for Africa. It seemed that all of New York, if not the entire country, had spontaneously agreed to help Roosevelt stage his "plunge into the wilds" of Africa.2 Experts and old Africa hands publicly weighed in on his chances of surviving the trip.3 New York ministers prayed that "he may return to us again in safety" and for "the highest success in his great quest," the Italian Chamber of Commerce presented a bronze tablet, President William Taft offered a gold pocket rule, and Fort Wadsworth fired a twenty-one-gun salute as Roosevelt steamed out of New York Harbor.4 The New York Times and the Associated Press kept Roosevelt's expedition in the public eye, publishing frequent dispatches from Africa up to the moment he "emerged from the jungle" nearly a year later.5 The National Geographic Society invited him to speak upon returning, thereby drawing comparisons of his trip with Commander Robert Peary's North Pole expedition and Sir Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic exploration.6 The greatest publicity for the trip, however, originated from Roosevelt's own pen. He had contracted with the publishing house Charles Scribner's Sons to write a series of articles on his safari for Scribner's Magazine and to produce a popular book. Roosevelt, we should recall, was a larger-than-life celebrity at a time when the field was less crowded than today. He had just finished his second term as president and had arranged with the Smithsonian Institution to embark on an expedition to collect zoological specimens in Africa. The Age of Empire was at its pinnacle, the United States had emerged as an imperial power, and international mass tourism was in its infancy. In sum, he was wildly popular and a widely recognized authority writing on African people, nature, and landscape at a time when educated North Americans were hungry to learn about other lands and cultures and the relation of the United States to them. Roosevelt would instruct them. In this chapter Roosevelt's writings help elucidate the significant role of imperial travel writing in establishing categories of people, places, and landscapes and arranging them in a global hierarchical relational order. Following in the path of critical studies of travel writing, this chapter explores how the ideas of race, nature, and national identity intersect in the construction of Roosevelt's imaginary geography of Africa. It is important to critically evaluate the categories and hierarchies created and reproduced in this literary genre because they continue to structure collective geographic imaginaries today. Roosevelt's writings, particularly African Game Trails: An Account of the African Wanderings of an American Hunter- Naturalist, demonstrate how some wildlife tourism in Africa constitutes a form of colonial reenactment, sometimes quite literally. Tourism is performative in that colonial reenactment works to maintain the boundaries, categories, and hierarchies established in imperial travel writing. My principal method is the discursive analysis of Roosevelt's published writings and private correspondence from archival collections and of present-day mass media and tourism advertising. © 2011 by Ohio University Press.

publication date

  • December 1, 2011

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) 13

start page

  • 43

end page

  • 72