Editing Hakluyt’s The Principal Navigations: A (nearly) 10-year Progress Report

Happy New Year to all our readers! In our first post of 2015, professor Claire Jowitt (University of Southampton) offers extraordinary insight in the exciting work she has been carrying out together with professor Dan Carey (NUI Galway) on producing a brand new scholarly edition of Richard Hakluyt‘s Principal Navigations suitable for the twenty-first century.


– Join the Hakluyt Society on www.hakluyt.com


Dan Carey and I first talked about producing a new scholarly edition of Richard Hakluyt’s major work The Principal Navigations over a drink on Friday December 9th 2005 after both attending a conference ‘New Worlds Reflected’, organised by Chloe Houston at Birkbeck, University of London. We both agreed that the lack of a scholarly edition of what is arguablythe most important travel text ever published was a serious impediment to early modern scholarship, and we started to talk about what we could do about it. But which edition should be produced? The 1589 single-volume one, or the 1598-1600 three-volume one? There were pluses and minuses on both sides, we thought.  As the wine continued to flow, we decided to organise an international conference on Hakluyt and to consult the broader scholarly community. Thus was a project born and, I hope, a life-long academic friendship.

In 2008 the National Maritime Museum hosted ‘Richard Hakluyt 1552-1616: Life, times, legacy’, attended by 120 delegates with upwards of 40 papers offered on all aspects of Hakluyt’s life and work, and the political, economic, and intellectual context of the time, with one session devoted to discussing the requirements for the new edition. The Hakluyt Society, especially the then President, Roy Bridges and the past President Will Ryan, offered wonderful support and advice, and members of the Society and its Council and Officers have continued to do so ever since. The discussion was passionate, with advocates for both versions of Hakluyt’s collection (the first vs. the expanded second edition) putting forward their views, but all agreeing that a new edition would further galvanise the already buoyant field of early modern travel writing. It was only after this, and much other consultation, that we finally settled on the larger later text since D.B. Quinn’s 1965 facsimile edition of the first version is textually reliable, still readily available, and has a super Introduction and index, despite not having other apparatus.

The three-volume edition gave us altogether a larger challenge but both Dan and I – as its General Editors – have always utterly believed in the importance of the project and hope that having a fully annotated edition of Hakluyt’s foundational travel text will be a tremendous boon to our own work as well as that of others. Since The Principal Navigations contains literally hundreds of accounts of exploration to all corners of the world, diplomatic and mercantile accounts and letters, rutiers, lists of commodities etc., it is also tremendously important that the text is fully searchable, so we decided that we wanted in due course to produce a digital online edition as well as a printed one.

This is not the type of project that can be done alone or even by two scholars; for an undertaking of this size and scope, a team of expert scholars is required, and very careful planning. Andrew Hadfield, Will Ryan, and Nigel Rigby, with Dan and I, spent months meeting together to scope the project. We recruited stellar international Editorial and Advisory Boards before ever we started contacting potential volume editors. Details of the full team are available at the Project Websitehttp://www.hakluyt.org/.

Assembling the right team and securing the publishing contract for the project with a top-notch publisher such as Oxford University Press was intense work. But from the Press, first Andrew McNeillie, and more recently Jacqueline Baker, have both been brilliant in their support for the project, now contracted in 14 volumesfor delivery starting in 2016/17, we hope. To date we have organised five Team Meetings and Editorial Workshops at the NMM, the National University of Ireland Galway, and the University of Southampton, and have upcoming meetings at the University of Oxford, the John Carter Brown Library in Rhode Island, and the University of Southampton.

There’s a genuine camaraderie amongst the team, and a tremendous desire to do a good job. We have also been immensely grateful to the generous support we, and our volume editors, have received from the British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Irish Government, the Modern Humanities Research Association, the Clothworkers’ Company, the Hakluyt Society, the Folger Library, and the Huntington Library, amongst others. We’ve also been immensely lucky in the Project RAs: (in chronological order for their work with us) Colm MacCrossan, Felicity Stout, Anders Ingram, and Lena Wahlgren-Smith. The project will only succeed if it’s a real team effort.

As I started to write this blog, I was shocked to realise that Dan and I have been working on this project for nearly 10 years. It’s not done yet, but it is now a realistic prospect that the academic community will have a scholarly edition of this foundational text within a few years. We certainly hope so. If, in the meantime, you want to find out more about the figure the Hakluyt Society chose to commemorate in 1846 when they selected a name, the first product of our collaboration on Hakluyt is already available.  In 2012, as part of the Hakluyt Society Extra Series, Ashgate published our edited collection of 24 essays, Richard Hakluyt and Travel Writing in Early Modern Europe, which, taken together, advance the study of the literary and historical resources, international connections, and the rhetorical and editorial practices of this key figure in the promotion of English colonial and commercial expansion.


Claire Jowitt is Professor of English at the University of Southampton and has been a member of the Hakluyt Society Council since 2012. With Daniel Carey, she is General Editor of the new OUP edition of “The Principal Navigations (1598-1600)”. Read more about the project here, or visit the project website.

@HakluytSociety – Become a member at www.hakluyt.com


Ashgate Hakluyt and Travel Writing
Daniel Carey and Claire Jowitt (eds.), ‘Richard Hakluyt and Travel Writing in Early Modern Europe’ (Hakluyt Society, Extra Series 47; 2012)
Principal Navigations
Richard Hakluyt, ‘The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation’ (London: George Bishop, 1598-1600)

Advertisements