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The Endeavour Project: Journals of James Cook's First Pacific Voyage

Australian National University
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Reviewed by:
Kirsten McKenzie
University of Sydney
January 2003

This project presents the journals from James Cook’s first Pacific voyage (1768-71). The British navigator sailed to the Pacific island of Tahiti to observe the transit of the planet Venus across the sun, and continued west to New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. This was the first of Cook’s three extensive voyages through the Pacific, ending with his death at the hands of Hawaiian islanders in 1779. The project is still in development, but already offers valuable resources.

There are four main sections to this site: “Journals,” “Archives,” “Maps,” and “Images.” “Journals“ contains the majority of the site’s data, presenting three texts. The journals of James Cook and botanist Joseph Banks record their observations and experiences among the peoples of Tahiti in 1769. The third text is an account of events on the island by John Hawkesworth who prepared an account of the voyage for publication several years later. The site is organized to facilitate comparison between the three texts. The journals by Cook and Banks entered the European cultural imagination through the account by John Hawkesworth, who (although presenting his material as if written by Cook) drew on both Cook and Banks as well as on other texts and freely offered his own interpretations of events.

Archives“ supplies two sets of Astronomical Observations made in 1769. Text from the second volume of Hawkesworth’s Account, published in 1773, is still under construction. “Maps“ includes three sets of maps, showing the Endeavour journey at global, regional, and local levels. “Images“ is still under construction. “About“ addresses problems posed by interpreting transcultural encounters. Although the site is well conceived, it is worth reading the detailed introduction to its navigational features (available in text and video). A navigational panel at the bottom of the screen, entitled “Endeavour Voyage Stages” can be used to load calendars that present parallel accounts of Cook, Banks, and Hawkesworth for each day of the stay on Tahiti. There is no search facility on the site.

Cook’s voyages have become iconic moments in the history of European exploration and expansion into the Pacific, a time of strong interest in studying the natural and social world according to the principles of 18th-century scientific rationalism. These voyages influenced the nature of science, including ethnography and racial thinking, in the age of Enlightenment. These ideas influenced Europeans across the cultural scene, from elite circles of scientific thinking to pantomime and other forms of popular culture. Once celebrated as a European hero, in postcolonial times Cook is equally likely to be vilified as a harbinger of the dispossession of Indigenous peoples. In short, the Cook voyages have both intrinsic and symbolic importance in narratives of world history.

In teaching world history courses, this site contributes to an understanding of a key moment in Pacific exploration and cross-cultural encounters. It provides useful comparison to other frontier situations in a global context, particularly to themes of “first contact” and the representation of non-Europeans in European cultural and scientific thought.

The site’s organization makes it particularly suited to exercises that compare differences between the three texts in order for students to engage with questions of evidence and interpretation. The transmission of ideas about the Pacific and its peoples to the European cultural milieu would come through particularly well by asking students to look for differences Hawkesworth’s version and the words of Banks and Cook. For example, Banks’s sympathetic account of a Tahitian woman’s disregard for her self-mutilation is augmented by Hawkesworth’s discourse on the differences between the mindset of Europeans and Indigenous peoples: “Yet if we admit that they are upon the whole happier than we, we must admit that the child is happier than the man, and that we are losers by the perfection of our nature, the increase of our knowledge, and the enlargement of our views.” (28 April 1769) Such instances illustrate the transmission of ideas about Indigenous peoples to Western culture particularly well.

A useful literature exists on the question of cultural contact and exploration within the Pacific for world history teachers. Key texts include Bernard Smith’s European Vision and the South Pacific and Imagining the Pacific: in the Wake of the Cook Voyages,1 both of which have a strong art history focus. Nicholas Thomas provides a more theoretically grounded discussion in Colonialism’s Culture: Anthropology, Travel, and Government.2 The Endeavour Project site can be usefully combined with the primary source anthology Exploration and Exchange, edited by Jonathan Lamb, Vanessa Smith and Nicholas Thomas (Chicago, 2000) which presents a broad range of writings of British and American explorers, mariners, missionaries, and visitors to the Pacific between 1680 and 1900.3 Editorial introductions set these primary sources within the historiography of travel literature and transcultural encounters.

1 Bernard Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985); Bernard Smith, Imagining the Pacific: in the Wake of the Cook Voyages (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992)
2 Nicholas Thomas, Colonialism’s Culture: Anthropology, Travel, and Government (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).
3 Jonathan Lamb, Vanessa Smith and Nicholas Thomas, eds., Exploration and Exchange: A South Seas Anthology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

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