Project Proposal- Proposal: Mapping the Oceanic Frontier: The Voyages of Captain Cook, 1768-1779

In the last three decades of the 18th century, the South Pacific was frequented by European travelers, exposing Tahitians to various encounters with western visitors. Driven by exoticist imagination of an idyllic paradise, Western voyages ventured to observe and bring back knowledge of these mysterious frontiers. One prolific explorer during this period of exploration was Captain James Cook of Great Britain, whose voyages over a decade have yielded one of the most successful stories of early modern navigation. Divided into three voyages, Captain Cook ventured from England first from 1768-1771 and again from 1772-1775, and finally from 1776 to his death in 1779. Along with his crew, Captain Cook documented their observations when arriving to specific locations. Their notable destinations included Tierra del Fuego at the tip of Argentina, Tahiti, Australia, and New Zealand. This extensive journey captures the interests of European exploration in the latter years of the 1700s. 

The key focus of this project is to follow his journals as he traveled across the oceans. Using these 18th-century accounts from Captain James Cook’s journal, illustrations from his crew throughout the ships, and engravings such as maps and figures, this project seeks to analyze the encounters of British personnel with the indigenous peoples of the areas in their encounters. What objects and items were important for trade in their encounters? What attitudes to British explorers possess and where did some differ with others on their opinions? What observations were most important and shocking to the voyagers? The aim of this research will seek to uncover the changes and continuities of the three voyages to critically examine the attitudes and the impact of cross-cultural interactions. In order to undertake this study, I seek to use timemapper to showcase the various points of travel that Captain Cook had been commissioned to navigate in the eleven years of his time at sea. From his initial crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean, the chronology from 1768 to his death in Hawaii in 1779 will convey the various points consistent to his journals. With the questions above, I seek to approach this study with a particular lens to material culture and everyday life within the experiences reflected in the journal. The project will project a timeline of the visits to clearly delineate each major event of the travels, showcasing the maps that cartographers drew to understand the spatial historical scale, and the engravings of how Europeans perceived their surroundings.

Studying the impact of Captain Cook’s voyages reorients the agency of those who encountered western voyagers to their homeland. By critically analyzing the writings and observations of these British expeditions, one can understand that these exchanges yielded consequential outcomes for the indigenous people who traded and interacted with the explorers. As such, this analysis will underpin the reliance on networking with indigenous agents in order to coordinate their voyages, collect samples for their research, and sustain the crews with nourishment and friendship. By reexamine previously held views of Eurocentrism in the age of navigation, this study aims at understanding the crucial elements of the voyages and how they impacted the ways local people were impacted by British engagement. This significance allows historians to reexamine the concept of empire and colonization that subsequently followed at the dawn of the 19th century. 

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