The 18th Century Search for the Blue Nile

Browse Exhibits (6 total)

Natural History - ተፈጥሯዊ ታሪክ

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Our project considers the role of natural history in James Bruce's journey through Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in the 1770’s, as well as the larger historical role played by natural history in 18th century Europe and beyond. James Bruce devoted the entire sixth volume of his six-volume Travels in Search of the Source of the Nile (1790), to natural history. In this volume, Bruce provided a plethora of detailed engravings of the flora, fauna, and landscapes he encountered during his expedition through East Africa. This exhibit will cover topics such as: natural history through the ages, Enlightenment debates about classification (as well as Bruce’s place within those debates), and a critical review of Bruce’s natural history agenda in East Africa.

Popular Geography in Early Modern Europe

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From cabinets of curiosity to printed travel narratives, there were several forms of popular geography during the early modern period. This exhibit surveys several topics relevant to European engagement with world geography in the 18th century. These topics include: European perceptions of foreign geography, credibility and authorship in printed travel narratives, and the different (often surprising) ways Europeans conceptualized, categorized, and ordered the globe.

Other Famous Explorers of the 17th and 18th Centuries


This exhibit looks at early modern explorers such as John Smith (1580-1631), Mark Catesby (1682/83-1749), and James Cook (1728-1779) in order to contextualize James Bruce's 18th century journey in East Africa. Many of these explorers share similar experiences and qualities with Bruce, and their expeditions were considered some of the most influential of the time period. In addition to their popularity, each of these explorers made considerable contributions to the social, economic, and political realms of the early modern period.


An Introduction to Ethiopian Bruce


This exhibit is a general overview of the life of James Bruce (1730-1794), the history of Ethiopia, Bruce's journey to the source of the Nile, his major published work Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, In the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1773 (first published in 1790), and his critical reception upon returning to Europe in the late 18th century.

Antiquarianism and Archaeology in Bruce's Journey

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This exhibit explores the role of antiquarianism and archeology during the 18th century. In addition to a description of antiquarianism, this exhibit investigates how history and archeology fit into the scientific expeditions of the 18th century. This exhibit also examines how James Bruce cast himself as an antiquary and interpreter of ancient history at locations such as Thebes in Egypt and Axum in Ethiopia.

18th Century Research in a 21st Century Classroom


Throughout this course, our class engaged in several 18th century research methods that helped us connect with both James Bruce and the early modern period. These activities included: creating a camera obscura, collecting botanical specimens for a class herbarium, and engaging in a popular early modern educational pastime called “washing maps.”  These kinetic experiences allowed our class to explore a range of subjects, from the technologies Bruce employed on his expedition into East Africa to the way Europeans learned about “foreign” geographies in the early modern period.