School of History Seminar Series: The Expedition as a Cultural Form

On the structure of exploratory journeys as revealed by the Australian explorations of Ludwig Leichhardt

Much has been written about the practice of exploration and its impact, but little is said about expeditions as cultural formations. In this re-examination of Ludwig Leichhardt, I read the modern expedition as a specifically capitalist phenomenon.  Leichhardt was an ambitious but penniless young Prussian, determined to win glory as a scientific explorer.  Financed by colonists, he launched so-called ‘squatting expeditions’ into ‘unknown’ territory, unencumbered by the directives of government or any other external authority. The economic support given to Leichhardt is read as part of a broader pattern of cultural investment in expeditionary projects on the part of colonial society.  I explore how the colony’s empowerment of Leichhardt affected his own political authority within his expeditionary parties and I probe the symbolism of colonies enlarging their polities by sending microcosms of their own society into territory beyond their frontiers.

Martin Thomas is Associate Professor in the School of History, ANU, and editor of Expedition into Empire (Routledge, forthcoming).

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Date & time

Wed 26 Feb 2014, 4.15–5.30pm


McDonald Room, Menzies Library ANU

Event series


School of History


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