Sunday, February 27, 2011

Photographs from the 1926-27 Harvard Expedition

All my posts on Harvard last week reminded me that I have never written about the Harvard Expedition to Liberia and the Belgian Congo in 1926-1927. The journey mostly concerned Medicine, Zoology, Ornithology, and Botany, and could be imagined as a classic jungle safari with pith-helmeted professors taking samples and specimens.

The venture resulted in a 2-volume, 1,064 page encyclopedic report, published in 1930, which chronicled the journey and its findings. The African Republic of Liberia and the Belgian Congo: based on the Observations Made and Material Collected During the Harvard African Expedition, 1926-27 (yes, that is the whole title) contains both interesting reports, such as accounts of elephants and even beached whale bones, and also pages and pages of rancid tropical diseases. Forsaken African villagers, crippled with elephantitis or ravaged by other horrors, are chronicled in bleak photographs. Surely this was for the betterment of all in advancing man's conquest of these ailments, but it makes for a rather grotesque document over all, especially if the history of tropical medicine isn't your thing.

Most germane to this blog, however, the beginning of the volume concerning the time in Liberia contains a series of photographic plates of Monrovia in its pre-war splendor. I'll mostly let those speak for themselves below, as they are some of the best documentation of the late-Settler town.

Its not particularly helpful that, for all the scientific exactitude that these scholars brought to their own area of enquiry, they were rather vague in the specific location of each photograph. Its possible to make some educated guesses on some, with the feel of Broad or Benson Streets, and others are more obvious. The first one, above, is clearly from Snapper Hill, although without the lighthouse or the Ducor, it seems quite different. A classicly-shaped palaver hut sits about where the Ducor pool might be now. The view from the harbor, below, gives an excellent sense of the overall prospect of the city.

Several of the plates show quite grand, multi-story mansions, two of the most imposing are labelled the President's Residence (whether a state building or a private house, its not clear) and Monrovia College. The residence looks to be on Broad Street; the college seems to be away from other buildings--perhaps even where the University of Liberia is now? Neither of these exist today.


MorganScribe said...

The building labelled the President's Residence was the Mansion in the 1920s, in the CDB King admisnistration.

I suspect it was on Ashmun Street. I think it was torn down in the 1930s and replaced by the Executive Grounds complex (Mansion, Pavilion).

Your site is fantastic. Will hit you up later.

MM Jones said...

Thanks for reading and commenting! I appreciate your support and especially the information on the buildings above!

Best, Matt

MorganScribe said...

Matt,I appreciate the work you're doing. I also have a passion for history and architecture, especially Liberia's unique architecture.

Check out these links:


HPSOL (Historical Preservation Society of Liberia)!/pages/Historical-Preservation-Society-of-Liberia/156363354386853

I'd really like to talk to you, pick your brain. Your interest in my country is heartwarming. Please hit me up:

MorganScribe said...

KRU WARS: Southeastern Revolt in 19th and Early 20th Century Liberia

Franklin Siakor said...

Dear Sir,
I would like to read more of the report on Liberia in the African Harvard expedition in Liberia. Can you help me with more photos taken in Kpelle country during the trip?
I am kpelle from that area and am working on a small book about the people around the time of that expedition.

A participant at a PRA workshop in Suakoko gave me a photo of Saukoko. I saw that it was from the Harvard African Expedition. The only copy of the book I have seen was in the Smithsonian Museum near Washington Library of Congress.
I think that is the only photo of Suakokor ever taken.
Franklin Obed Siakor
former Senator, Bong County, Liberia

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