The Incredible Life And Explorations Of John Ledyard

Of all the explorers and travelers I have written about, few are as fascinating and as little-known today as the American adventurer John Ledyard.  He lived from 1751 to 1789, during the seminal years of American history; and his travels across the globe (especially in Russia and Siberia) mark him out as a man who deserves far more recognition than he has received from posterity.  In fact, as I was researching his life in preparation for this article, I could hardly believe that his name had sunk into such undeserved oblivion.  Let us give him his due now.

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On Meetings And Separations: The Wisdom Of Two Scholars Of Al-Andalus

We have paid a price for the media age.  Yes, it is true that we have access to huge volumes of information (or mindless trash, depending on your perspective); but the average person is now so deluged with tsunamis of inanity that it is a full-time responsibility just to sift out what is of value from what is not.  Some people are not able to do this–or do not want to do it–and swim in mental sewage.  Others are able to do it, and can ascend to the loftiest heights of knowledge and perception.  Every man makes his own choice as to which world he prefers to inhabit.

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Dixon Denham: Pioneering British Explorer Of Central Africa

We have previously described in these pages the exploits of Heinrich Barth, one of the titans of African exploration.  Before him was Dixon Denham, a British explorer whose name is also hardly known today.  He covered some of the same ground as did Barth, but he had a different style; where Barth was a scientist and ethnographer at heart, Denham was a soldier with an eye for people, relationships, terrain, and–it must be said–trouble.

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Edward King: Sacrificing Fortune And Life For Scholarship

Of some scholars, or patrons of the arts, it can be said that they sacrificed everything for their work.  Of others, this cannot be said.  Edward King, Viscount of Kingsborough, belongs to the former category.  His name is almost entirely unknown today, but he occupies a significant place in the pantheon of heroes who helped bring the treasures of Mexican antiquity to the attention of modern scholarship.  The least we can do here is honor his name.

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Heinrich Barth: An Incredible Explorer And Ethnographer

The name Heinrich Barth is almost unknown today.  But he is without doubt the greatest explorer that Germany produced in the nineteenth century, and probably even in the twentieth.  Not only did he penetrate completely unknown regions of Africa, but he kept a meticulous record of his travels, to such an extent that his published works are still useful to scholars today.  Even in his own day he did not receive the recognition that he deserved; central Africa was then so unknown even to educated Europeans that a balanced appraisal of his work was not possible at the time.  Yet a review of his life and travels leaves little doubt that he must be ranked among the bravest and most resourceful of all explorers of the African continent.

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The Remarkable Memoirs Of Madame Roland

When a writer composes his or her memoirs while in prison awaiting execution, we owe it to ourselves to consider what they have to say.  It may be a cliché that the prospect of death focuses the memory and concentration, but it is a cliché that is powerfully true.  In Chapter 5 of Thirty-Seven, I discussed the fate of Boethius, who wrote his Consolation of Philosophy while languishing in a dungeon (and awaiting execution) for a crime he did not commit.  I recently heard of another last testament written during captivity:  the poignant memoirs of Jeanne Manon Roland (1754–1793), known to history simply as Madame Roland.

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The Fragility Of Historical Knowledge: The Case Of Lorenzo Boturini In Mexico

In the modern era we like to think of knowledge as something indelibly fixed and permanent.  We take it for granted that it will always be here, like the Great Pyramid, and are apt to overlook the bitter struggles that our ancestors may have endured to acquire such knowledge.  Information has not always been as easy to obtain as it is now.  As we read about the adventures of scholars of the past, we get the distinct impression that the learned men who came before us had a hardiness and tenacity that is lacking in the modern era.  I will let the reader judge for himself.

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