The Series Editor’s View: Or, What Hakluyt Society Series Editors Do

What do Hakluyt Society Series Editors do? On this blog, editors of individual volumes regularly speak about the books published in the Publications of the Hakluyt Society series. Less well-known are the sustained efforts made by the Society’s series editors during the long gestation process of a volume from the proposal stage to being guided into print. The Society currently benefits from the excellent, voluntary labour of two Honorary Joint Series Editors, Professor Joyce Lorimer and Dr Gloria Clifton. In this post, the latter shines her light on her work as a series editor and in particular the experience of overseeing the recent publication of Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic, 1772-1820.

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When and how did you become Hakluyt Society Series Editor?

I first became a series editor in 2008, after about a year’s apprenticeship as an assistant editor, in which I took on the role of preparing the report for Council on progress with volumes. I already had some experience as an editor of some of the catalogues published by the National Maritime Museum, where I was a curator. Since then I have edited the Society’s annual lectures and worked closely with volume editors in preparing travel accounts for publication. I focus on the 18th to 20th centuries, while my fellow series editor, Professor Joyce Lorimer, concentrates on earlier periods. So far the published volumes for which I have been solely responsible are the two volumes of Australia Circumnavigated edited by Kenneth Morgan (2015) and Anna Agnarsdottir ‘s Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic, 1772-1820 (2016).

What does the Hakluyt Society Series Editor do? 

The role of Hakluyt Society series editors may seem a bit of a mystery. Why are they needed in addition to the editors of individual volumes? Briefly, series editors try to put themselves in the place of readers. They read the final draft text and ask questions of the volume editor if they find anything they think is not clear, or if they notice any inconsistencies. They check that text, notes and references are presented in a standard format, as well as that all the maps and illustrations are of reasonable quality and are listed at the start of the book. If a work has been translated into English, they try to ensure that the translation reflects the flavour of the original, while securing a readable text. Beyond their responsibility to readers the series editors also check that copyright permissions have been secured.

Did the Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic raise any particular problems?

Most of the problems with presenting this material had to be faced by the volume editor, such as the difficulty of reading Banks’s handwriting – especially as he grew older – and translating the letters he received from a number of other languages into English. Help had to be found for some of these. As the foreign language letters were in a minority the series editor agreed that the original text as well as the translation should be given, so that readers with a knowledge of other languages could check for themselves. The series editor was also involved in deciding how best to present Banks’s statistical material. One difficulty for which there was no easy answer was the size of the volume, at around 700 pages in all. The material could not easily be divided logically into two similar-sized volumes and it really did belong together. We trust that our members, who have been sent the Banks volume last month, will agree.


Gloria Clifton is Honorary Joint Series Editor of the Hakluyt Society, Emeritus Curator of the National Maritime Museum, and former head of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. She is an Individual Member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and editor of Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851 (1995), and Treasures of the National Maritime Museum (2009, with Nigel Rigby). She is also the author of Professionalism, patronage, and public service in Victorian London: the staff of the Metropolitan Board of Works, 1856-1889 (1992).

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Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820: Journals, Letters and Documents

The Hakluyt Society proudly announces the upcoming publication of Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820: Journals, Letters and Documents, edited by Professor Anna Agnarsdóttir. This long-anticipated volume, which is about to appear as part of the Hakluyt Society’s Third Series, will be distributed for free to all members of the Hakluyt Society. In this post, Professor Agnarsdóttir discusses the significance of Banks’ scientific expedition to Iceland and its aftermath. You can hear her speak at two launch events later this month, hosted by the Royal Society, and Lincoln Cathedral, respectively.

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After the successful Endeavour voyage [Hakluyt Society Extra Series 34], Sir Joseph Banks was due to sail on James Cook’s second voyage to the South Seas. Unhappy with the accommodation, Banks withdrew and sailed with his twenty-strong party to Iceland, thus leading the first British scientific expedition to this remote island in 1772. Thus began Banks’s association with Iceland.

This volume contains the Iceland journals of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) – including an account of his ascent of the volcano Hekla – and his servant James Roberts. Secondly, all extant documents regarding Banks and the North Atlantic (concerning the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Norway) from preparations for his expedition to his death in 1820 have been collected from repositories worldwide.

The bulk of the documents falls into two categories: the 1772 Iceland expedition and the Napoleonic Wars period 1807-1814. The latter illuminate how Banks acted as a powerful protector of the Icelanders, with his detailed plans for annexing Iceland to the British Empire. This, he believed, would be a humanitarian solution to the plight of the Icelanders, cut off by the Royal Navy from their mother country, Denmark. A great many documents deal with “The Icelandic Revolution” of 1809, when a British trading expedition, granted a license to trade in Iceland by the Privy Council, seized power. Iceland was proclaimed an independent country, under the protection of Great Britain.

Although this was ended by the intervention of a British sloop-of-war, the following year George III placed the Danish dependencies in the North Atlantic in a state of neutrality and amity with England and free trade was established between them and Britain. Iceland was thus placed under the protection of Britain, the Iceland trade being regulated by the Board of Trade, and a British consul was appointed to the island. A great many letters relate to trade and the difficulties experienced both by British and Iceland merchants during the Napoleonic Wars, for instance the question of neutral trade, the British licensing system, and the capture of merchant vessels. These documents are important sources not only for Icelandic history but also for Georgian Britain during the Napoleonic Wars.

Anna Agnarsdóttir is Professor of History in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Iceland, Reykjavik. She has published on Icelandic history, exploratory voyages in the North Atlantic, and global encounters more widely. She will participate in a panel discussion entitled Banks in the Land of Ice and Fire hosted by the Royal Society on 26 April 2016, which the public is free to attend. On 28 April, she will give a free lecture entitled Sir Joseph Banks in Iceland and the North Atlantic in the Wren Library at Lincoln Cathedral. Both events are sponsored by the Hakluyt Society.

Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820). Source:

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