Longitude and Empire: How Captain Cook's Voyages Changed the World

Front Cover
UBC Press, 2005 - History - 240 pages

No one had travelled like Captain Cook, and no one can again. Before his three voyages, the world was uncertain and dangerous; after them, it was clear and safe. Written as a conceptual field guide to the voyages, Longitude and Empire offers a significant rereading of both the voyages and of modern political philosophy.

While the voyages are not explicitly works of political philosophy, they are political philosophy by other means, offering new ways of thinking about the world and about the place of human beings have in that world. More than any other work, they mark the shift from early modern to modern ways of looking at the world, a world that is no longer divided into Europeans and savages, but is populated by an almost overwhelming variety of national identities.

Cook’s voyages took what fragmented and obscure descriptions of the world that were available and consolidated them into a single textual, tabular vision of the entire world. Places thus became clear and distinct, their locations were fixed, and everything inside – people, animals, plants and artifacts – was identified, collected, understood, and assimilated into a single world order. The Pacific was a test case for a new way of knowing and relating to the world. Then, it was possible to seriously travel only in Cook’s wake, to be always already moving either within, or in reaction to his accounts of the world. As the culmination of global exploration, Cook’s voyages became the ideal, and it is through Cook, after Cook, that Europe regrouped what knowledge it already had, and returned to the world with new epistemological and political expectations.

This fascinating and informative account offers a new understanding of Captain Cook’s voyages and how they affected Europe’s world view. It will engage historians, geographers, ethnographers, Cook enthusiasts, and anyone with an interest in epistemology or how the world was mapped.

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.

Other editions - View all

References to this book

About the author (2005)

Brian W. Richardson is a librarian at Windward Community College in Hawaii and is editing a collection of Hawaiian myths and legends.

Bibliographic information