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9-08-2015, 18:27

Explorations

By the middle of the sixteenth century, Spanish expeditions had traveled north from New Spain (present-day Mexico) into the interior of North America, north from the Caribbean, around and across Florida, up the Rio de la Plata in South America to present-day Paraguay, and directly across the Pacifi c to the Moluccas and the Philippines and back. In the later sixteenth century Spanish and Portuguese explorers pushed up the Orinoco and Amazon river systems, with the discovery of gold and precious stones in Brazil attracting more adventurers into the South American interior. Meanwhile, the French, Dutch, and English tried to fi nd a northern route to Asia that could allow them to compete with the Portuguese and the Spanish. Some expeditions searched for a Northwest Passage through North America. In the 1520s, Francis I of France sponsored the Italian Giovanni de Verrazzano ( c. 1485–c. 1528) on a voyage up the east coast of North America; Verrazzano found rivers and bays, but nothing that led very far inland. Jacques Cartier’s exploration of what he named the St. Lawrence River in the 1530s was a bit more promising, but it would be seventy years before other explorers would venture further up the St. Lawrence and into the Great Lakes area. Meanwhile, English and Dutch expeditions sought a Northeast Passage up the coast of Norway. An English expedition made it to the Russian city of Archangel in 1553, and in the 1590s a Dutch expedition under Willem Barents (1550–97) discovered the island of Spitsbergen and wintered far to the east, though ice made it impossible for his ships to continue. Russian fur-traders and whalers were also exploring the far north, traveling into the vast areas of Siberia all the way to what is now Alaska in search of fox and sable. Peter the Great sponsored the Danish captain Vitus Bering (1681–1741) on several expeditions in the 1720s and 1730s along the north and east coast of Siberia; he was the fi rst to map this area, and on one of the voyages he discovered the strait between Asia and America that was later named for him, along with the Aleutian Islands and the northwest coast of North America. (In the late nineteenth century, a Finnish and a Russian explorer each successfully sailed the whole length of northern Russia, and during the 1930s to the 1990s the passage saw some commercial navigation, using heavy icebreakers.) The fi rst Russian trading post in Alaska was founded in 1741, and the fi rst permanent colony in 1784. In the seventeenth century, the English, Dutch, and French pushed further into North America. A series of French explorers, including Samuel de Champlain ( c. 1570–1635) and Jean Nicolet (1598–1642), traveled up the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, and in the 1670s Jacques Marquette (1637–75) and Louis Joliet (1645–1700), along with others, explored the area from the Great Lakes to the river systems of central North America. French expeditions discovered the mouth of the Mississippi River, and by the early eighteenth century the French had established a string of forts and small settlements from Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico. Dutch-sponsored voyages under the English captain Henry Hudson ( c. 1570– c. 1611) and English-sponsored voyages explored various waterways in northern North America searching for a Northwest Passage; several looked promising, but turned out to be land-locked bays or ice-blocked straits. William Baffi n (1584–1622), the navigator and pilot on several of these voyages, recorded astronomical, tidal, and magnetic observations that would ultimately prove more useful than many of the voyages themselves, although it would be several centuries before his fi ndings would be confi rmed and a European voyage come this far north again. Along with the search for the elusive northern passage to Asia, much exploration was driven by the search for the huge continent that Europeans expected would be in the southern hemisphere to balance all the continents in the northern hemisphere. This “Terra Australis” (a phrase simply meaning “southern land”) showed up on maps throughout the sixteenth century, and in 1606 Europeans got their fi rst glimpse of what was soon named Australia. Dutch expeditions explored and mapped the coasts of Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, and other islands in the Pacifi c, at the same time as Dutch merchants and captains were challenging Portuguese trading dominance in the East Indies. Australia was huge, but still not large enough to be the famed southern lands, and eighteenth-century expeditions continued the search, discovering and mapping much of the Pacifi c in the process. French and British ships reached Samoa, Tahiti, and other island groups, bringing back plants, animals, and often a few residents, along with reports and drawings of what they had seen. Such information fueled the European desire to classify, systematize, and understand the natural world. The most important of these Pacifi c voyages were those under Captain James Cook (1728–79). Cook had been apprenticed as a young man in the merchant navy, volunteered in the British royal navy, and served in the Seven Years War in North America, primarily as a surveyor. His land and coastal surveying brought him to the attention of the Royal Society, which hired him to go to the Pacifi c to record a transit of Venus across the face of the sun. On this fi rst voyage in 1768–71, Cook sailed south around South America, made the planetary observation, and then explored and mapped both islands of New Zealand. He sailed to Australia, landing at several points to collect botanical specimens and looking for suitable places for a settlement; one bay he found was later named Botany Bay, and the fi rst British penal colony in Australia was established there in 1788. Cook made contact with several groups of indigenous people, and communicated well enough to adopt an aboriginal word for the most distinctive animal he had seen, a kangaroo. He confi rmed the existence of the Torres Strait separating Australia from New Guinea before continuing around the world back to Britain.

METHODS AND ANALYSIS 13 The legacy of Captain Cook

The motivations and impact of Cook’s voyages, like those of Columbus, have been hotly debated. Cook contributed enormously to European knowledge about the Pacifi c, both directly through the publication of his journals and through the reports, specimens, and sketches of the botanists and artists who accompanied him. He was the fi rst to use new types of timekeeping devices to help fi gure longitude at sea, and was one of the best navigators and map-makers in history. He kept his men from getting scurvy – a disease caused by vitamin C defi ciency, and very common on long voyages – by forcing them to eat citrus fruits and sauerkraut, even though he did not know exactly why this worked. This view of him as an Enlightenment fi gure, interested in all aspects of the world around him and open to new, empirically demonstrated tools and techniques, stands in contrast to views of him as a destroyer of local cultures he viewed as inferior, bringing European diseases, introducing unhealthy products, and opening the Pacifi c to exploitation. Cook’s death also fi gures in this debate. The traditional view, based on copies of several paintings made at the time and widely reproduced as engravings, sees him as a peacemaker who got caught in a fi ght between native Hawaiians and his men. The original of one of these paintings was rediscovered in 2004, however, and it shows him aggressively attacking indigenous people. Hawaiian accounts also report that he was a violent man, though his own crew attributed this to irrationality brought on by an illness on his third voyage. The actions of the islanders are even more hotly disputed. The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins and others have argued that the Hawaiians thought Cook was the human manifestation of the harvest god Lono because he appeared at the expected time in the ritual cycle; when Cook returned at a different point in the religious calendar, they killed him because he was now a sacrilegious taboo (a word that derives from the Hawaiian word kapu). More recently different scholars, including Obeyesekere Gananath, have asserted that Cook was killed because he demanded too much food from the island’s residents and treated them harshly. They charge that Sahlins’s view is imperialistic and ethnocentric, portraying Hawaiians as illogical savages who could not tell the difference between people and gods. Sahlins has countered that his critics’ refusal to acknowledge that a very different view of reality could exist elsewhere is true ethnocentrism, because it judges western ways of thinking as automatically superior. All sides in these debates can point to various pieces of evidence, so the discussion revolves primarily around methods of interpretation and the limits of applying anthropological and historical theory. On his second voyage in 1772–5, again sponsored by the Royal Society, Cook sailed in the other direction around Africa and explored far south in the Pacifi c, crossing the Antarctic Circle at several points, though he did not land in Antarctica. His records about the weather and the seas demonstrated to all but the most adamant that there was no habitable continent south of Australia. On his third voyage in 1776–9 he dashed more hopes, sailing through the Bering Strait to the edge of the pack ice, and proving it was impossible to sail from Europe to Asia going north along either a Northeast or a Northwest Passage. (The fi rst ship to make it through the Northwest Passage in a single season was a Canadian schooner in 1944, and a few more have done it since, though the route has been judged commercially unviable; global warming has recently thinned the ice and made getting through easier, however, and several nations are engaged in discussions about future shipping in this area, as it is thousands of miles shorter for ships traveling from New York or London to China than the route through the Panama Canal.) Cook mapped the west coast of North America from California north, an area claimed by Spain but with very little permanent Spanish presence. This trip was also the fi rst documented European contact with the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands (which Cook named the Sandwich Islands), who had themselves come from Polynesia by way of the Marquesas sometime around 500 ce . Cook was killed in Hawaii on a return visit later in the trip. Cook’s fi rst two voyages, sponsored by the Royal Society for scientifi c purposes, like most explorations also had political and economic motivations and impacts. In the 1770s, Spanish expeditions traveled up the west coast of North America to what later came to be called Vancouver Island, and Spain began establishing a few garrisons and missions in the huge area north of Baja California. These included coastal settlements north of Point Loma (modern-day San Diego), Spain’s northern-most fi rm claim, and so brought Spanish priests and soldiers into areas claimed by Francis Drake for England two hundred years earlier. (Exactly where Drake landed is not clear, though it was somewhere near Point Reyes, just north of San Francisco Bay.) After Cook’s third voyage, the British East India Company established a one-building trading post at Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, which the Spanish captured in 1789. In the same year, Spain sent an expedition to the area under the leadership of Alessandro Malaspina (1754–1810), which, like Cook’s, included scientists, artists, and scholars interested in local peoples, along with troops to support the tiny Spanish garrison. Malaspina explored and mapped much of the west coast, including Puget Sound, and then sailed to the western Pacifi c, where he also explored and mapped many of the same places as Cook. The British and the Spanish nearly went to war over rival claims to Nootka Sound, but these were resolved by treaties in favor of the British arranged by George Vancouver (1757–98), one of Cook’s protégés who also carried out explorations in the area. The Pacifi c northwest continued to be the focus of international dispute, however, for Russian fur-traders had actually traveled in this area long before either Cook or Malaspina, and after 1783 the newly independent United States became involved as well. France was not involved in this quarrel, but French confl icts with the British on the other side of North America – discussed in more detail below – led to French expeditions similar to those of Cook. In 1766, shortly after losing France’s North American possessions to the British in the Seven Years War, Louis XV commissioned Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811), who had been a military offi cer in Quebec, to circumnavigate the globe. Bougainville visited the island of Tahiti and later, in a widely read book, described the islanders as true “noble savages.” His visit also served as the basis for later French claims in Polynesia. Bougainville’s book, along with a fi ctionalized version of his encounter with the Tahitians titled Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage (1771) written by the philosophe Denis Diderot, became key texts in Enlightenment debates about the merits of civilization. They, and Cook’s journals, also inspired another French explorer and veteran of the Seven Years War, Jean François Galaup, count of La Pérouse (1741–88), to lead a scientifi c expedition to the Pacifi c in 1785. La Pérouse explored coasts and islands all over the Pacifi c Rim, including the new British settlement in Australia and Russian settlements in the Kamchatka peninsula founded by Bering, before his expedition was shipwrecked and everyone died. Fortunately for future explorers, he had sent letters and documents about his expedition back to Paris, where they were subsequently published. By the end of the eighteenth century, then, the coastlines and islands of the Atlantic and much of the Pacifi c had been explored and mapped, as had those of the Indian and Arctic Oceans. European interests in the nineteenth century would turn to continental interiors, especially Africa and Asia, which would also become the main focus for European confl icts over empire-building. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, those confl icts were fought primarily on or near the sea, for domination of sea routes was the key to power. The world’s seas, especially the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic, were crossed by faster and faster sailing ships, carrying goods, people, and ideas.

 

 

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