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South Seas Voyaging and Cross-Cultural Encounters in the Pacific

The National Library of Australia, and the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research at the Australian National University, Canberra
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Reviewed by:
Kirsten McKenzie
University of Sydney
August 2006

This site acts as an online information resource for the history of European voyaging and cross-cultural encounters in the Pacific between 1760 and 1800. Though still under construction, the initial phase of the site is now operational, and is focused on the first voyage of discovery made by Captain James Cook on the Endeavour between 1768 and 1771. The site provides full texts of four key narratives associated with this voyage: the journals kept by Cook, botanist Joseph Banks, and artist Sydney Parkinson whilst on the Endeavour, and the published work by John Hawkesworth, Account of the Voyages undertaken… in the Southern Hemisphere (1773). Volumes two and three of Hawkesworth’s published account are based upon Cook’s and Banks’s journals. The site also provides roughly three supplementary texts, more than 20 maps, and several research aids, including an encyclopedia, a dictionary, and a bibliography.

The site’s resources are divided into six sections: Voyaging Accounts provides the texts of Cook, Banks, Parkinson, and Hawkesworth, and Voyaging Maps charts the Endeavour’s voyage in a series of maps that provide cross references to the narratives concerning each location. The South Seas Companion is an encyclopedic reference guide providing information on people, places and concepts. It is searchable and also contains a bibliography which is an invaluable resource for further reading. The Cultural Atlases section provides detailed maps showing the location of places of cultural significance in Tierra Del Fuego, the Society Islands, Botany Bay and the Endeavour River.

Indigenous Histories contains two texts by Europeans who lived within Pacific communities and charted ancestral histories, poetry and songs about this period. European Reactions contains the text of the play Omai, or, a Trip round the World (1785), a popular theatre production inspired by the Cook voyages. The Reference Works section provides a searchable text of the 1780 edition of William Falconer’s Dictionary of the Marine. This is helpful for users wishing to decipher the 18th-century nautical terms which sprinkle the journals, or for anyone who ever wondered what “futtocks”—or worse, “futtock-shrouds”—are.

This is an excellent site for students and teachers of world history interested in exploring themes of nautical history, colonial expansion, and cross-cultural encounters. The text Omai also allows students to consider the manner in which voyaging in the Pacific influenced European popular culture. Students can juxtapose the Indigenous Histories texts with the European journals and published works in Voyaging Accounts to discuss the manner in which two cultures depict similar events, and to raise the question of whether historians choose to privilege certain accounts and kinds of evidence in their analyses.

The site is easy to use and all the texts are searchable. Users can search the entire site or restrict their search to particular texts.

A particularly useful feature is the manner in which the journal entries are annotated with cross-references to the South Seas Companion. For example, one entry from Cook’s journal (14 April 1769) includes cross-references to concepts such as “theft, in Maohi society,” cultural artifacts (snuff), natural phenomena (breadfruit, coconut palm), as well as people and places mentioned in the text. The annotated journal entries allow for a particularly fruitful classroom discussion of the parameters of such encounters and of the ways in which historians interpret them. For example, the exasperated complaints about theft which students will read in Cook’s journal can be juxtaposed with an annotated discussion in the South Seas Companion on concepts of theft in the Pacific societies in which it was occurring. Based on such sources, students might be asked to compare the class dimensions of theft in European and Maohi society, or to discuss the issue of political alignment in understanding why Europeans voyagers experienced theft with such frequency.

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