Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Mattingly, Carol, 1945-

Author's Keywords

Sierra Leone; Henry Morton Stanley; Liberia; Dark Continent; Great Zimbabwe; Rhetorical sovereignty


Africa--In literature; Africa--Description and travel; Africa--History--19th century; Literary journeys--Africa; Africa--Foreign relations


This dissertation examines historical rhetoric about Africa in British and American writings between the beginnings of the Abolition period and the 1884 Berlin Conference at which the continent was divided by colonial powers. Tracing rhetorical trends of travel writers and their constituents through the explorations of the continent, it demarcates two turns in the way Africans and Africa were constructed rhetorically. In the process it reveals a 19th-century evolution from depicting Africa largely in terms of its viability for commerce and reception of European culture, to an Africa fallen into darkness, to Africa as the Dark Continent, permanently fixed in a savage darkness. These rhetorical turns are examined through the theoretical frameworks of rhetorical imperialism and rhetorical sovereignty. Chapter I explores the creation of Sierra Leone for resettling freed British blacks and the varied, at times contradicting, rhetoric lacking in uniform vision of the continent or its people other than a general trend of focusing on the viability of Africa as a site for British post-slavery endeavor and an ambivalent view of African cultural inferiority. Chapter II explores the American creation of Liberia, revealing a specific rhetoric of Africa as benighted, fallen, and degraded. This chapter demonstrates the rhetorical turn that occurred between the establishment of Sierra Leone and subsequent founding of Liberia, when the importance of Christian faith came to trump all other concerns for evaluating and characterizing Africa. Chapter III contains two case studies of the extent to which such rhetorical imperialism can be contested, one of Samuel Crowther, a Nigerian recaptive settled in Sierra Leone who then returned to Nigeria years later as an explorer, and another of Martin Delany, a free African American who traveled to Nigeria to seek an emigration site for African Americans fleeing slavery. Chapter IV juxtaposes the rhetorical work of Henry Stanley and his reports on explorations in Central Africa with the simultaneous rhetoric of the Great Zimbabwe debates. In so doing, the arc of rhetorical development since the Sierra Leone era is traced, complicating contemporary definitions of the Dark Continent and suggesting its continued limitation on African rhetorical sovereignty today.