Secrets of the Dead: “The Lost Diary of Dr. Livingstone”

News Release Date: 
March 12, 2014

For Immediate Release
UNL Professor Featured in Program Examining Dr. Livingstone’s Diary

LINCOLN, Neb. (March 12, 2014) -- Dr. David Livingstone was the renowned British explorer whom American journalist Henry Morton Stanley greeted with the now famous words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

In the late 19th  century in Victorian Britain, Livingstone was a popular hero of the era -- a celebrated explorer, Christian missionary, staunch abolitionist and pioneering doctor, who developed a treatment for malaria. But was he really the national hero people made him out to be?

A team of experts, led by former Indiana University of Pennsylvania and current University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Adrian Wisnicki, attempt to decipher Livingstone’s recently discovered original field diary on “The Lost Diary of Dr. Livingstone” on the “Secrets of the Dead” episode airing Wednesday, March 26, at 9 p.m. CT on NET1. The program will be repeated on Friday, March 28, at 7 p.m. CT on NET1.

During his last expedition, Livingstone witnessed and documented an event that changed the course of history. His account of the mass slaughter of the village Nyangwe (today located within the Democratic Republic of Congo), recorded in his journal brought back by Stanley, horrified the American and British public and ultimately led to the end of the African slave trade, and closing down the world’s last open slave market.  But Livingstone may not have told the entire story of the massacre in his journal.

In researching the massacre, Wisnicki uncovered several accounts, which, curiously, are all different. These varied accounts, alongside Livingstone’s published report and the writings in his journal, suggest he was a far different man than the legend that surrounds him.  To find out the truth about Nyangwe and Livingstone, Wisnicki sets out to locate the field diary that corresponds to the massacre.

Among the Livingstone family possessions, locked away in the store room of the David Livingstone Centre near Glasgow, Scotland, Wisnicki comes across the original field diary -- Livingstone’s private diary -- containing his first-hand account of the massacre. Scribbled on tattered pieces of newspaper, Livingstone kept the diary with him never intending for anyone to see it.

Embarking on a scientific collaboration that would last for six months, Wisnicki employed state-of-the art multi spectral imaging technology, first invented by NASA, and cutting edge equipment that can see what to the naked eye would be invisible to recover Livingstone’s faded diary entries.

Why was the diary scrawled on newspaper in berry juice and not on writing paper in ink? How did Livingstone’s obsession with discovering the source of the Nile cause him to stray from his principles?  How did the death of his wife affect him?

Livingstone wrote about the massacre in earlier reports, but what really transpired?  What was Livingstone covering up? For the first time in 140 years, the secrets Livingstone tried to keep hidden are revealed.

Wisnicki is an assistant professor of English at UNL and a fellow with UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.

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RELEASE WRITTEN BY:  Larry L. Kubert, 402-472-9333, ext. 389, or e-mail at

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