Essay Prize Series Part 1: Printing the Pacific

The submissions for the 2014-2015 Hakluyt Society Essay Prize showcased some of the most exciting new research in the field of the history of travel, exploration and cultural encounter currently undertaken by postgraduate students and early career researchers. We are glad to announce that the top-3 contestants have kindly agreed to introduce their work on this blog. In this first installment of our mini-series on the Essay Prize, Katherine Parker (Pittsburgh) writes about her PhD research on Pacific travel writing which resulted in her excellent submission entitled ‘Circling a paper world’.

– Join the Hakluyt Society on

I am grateful to have been chosen as an Honorable Mention in the Hakluyt Society’s Essay Prize Contest. As a student member and active participant, I think it vital that more early-career scholars join organizations such as the Hakluyt Society. New minds can bring fresh topics and methodologies, but younger colleagues also benefit from interaction with more seasoned scholars who can assess and direct their work. My own research, including the essay discussed here, owes a great debt to previous historians of exploration and encounter, and it is to them, especially Glyndwr Williams, that I credit my intellectual development.

In the paper submitted to the Hakluyt Society, I outline the major players and interdependent relationships within London that worked together to bring the Pacific to the printed page, followed by an analysis of the publication of a particular travel account, Anson’s Voyage Round the World (London: John and Paul Knapton, 1748) (see image). By tracing how information was gathered at sea and fixed in text and on maps, it is possible to see the trans-imperial collaborative, yet competitive, effort necessary to create a world on paper. Such a paper world was a vital tool that spurred European expansion later in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

I posit that when historians of the book write of book “production” they must more seriously examine the source material that went into the work, as well as the materials that make up a book. In this case, experiences at sea conditioned how the Pacific as a space was conveyed in text and engraved illustration, creating a deceptive sense of place for a readership that would never see the region. Of course, reader response is a complex reaction that cannot be controlled by author or editor, but it can be conditioned by material presentation. This theme is addressed through a discussion of the many forms, sizes, and changing presentations of the Voyage over time. Finally, the lessons learned about publishing Pacific travel accounts would serve as examples for later works, especially those of the nineteenth-century polar expeditions. Thus, Pacific exploration publications affected not only other spaces opened to imperial expansion, but also the book industry itself.

Briefly, I would like to describe my broader dissertation topic. The Pacific region was a salient topic throughout eighteenth-century Britain, especially from the late-seventeenth century culminating in the celebrated voyages of James Cook. When people mentioned the area, they touched upon discussions of overseas commerce, imperial politics, and navigational technology. As these discourses were presented primarily via print media, the Pacific had to shift from observable entity to material product negotiated through numerous overlapping networks of production, circulation, and reception. How the Pacific came to material form represents a reciprocal, dynamic system of the creation of knowledge that is at once global and yet centered primarily on a particular place and time—eighteenth-century London.

Thus, printing the Pacific is a localized history of a global process, a globilocal sociology of texts[1] that results in the assimilation of a newly-encountered region into quotidian print practices and representations. Such a domestic history of Pacific exploration, with an especial focus on material culture, has never been told.

[1] The term sociology of texts is from D. F. Mckenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of the Texts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Katherine Parker is a PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation traces the production, dissemination, and reception of geographic knowledge about the Pacific region prior to the voyages of James Cook. In 2013-15 she studied in London archives as a Social Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Fellow (2013-4) and as an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow (2014-5). Currently, she is serving as the John R. Bockstoce Fellow in Pacific Ocean Studies at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island.

Title page of the Royal First Edition of Anson's 'Voyage around the World'. Courtesy Mr. Colin Paul
Title page of the Royal First Edition of Anson’s ‘Voyage around the World’.
Courtesy Mr. Colin Paul

@HakluytSociety – Become a member at