Looking back on Hakluyt@400

The two-day international conference held to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Richard Hakluyt has been an appropriate highlight in a packed Hakluyt Quatercentenary programme  with events in Oxford and Wetheringsett. Thanks are due to the excellent organisation by Claire Jowitt, Daniel Carey and Anthony Payne, as well as to our generous hosts, the Bodleian Library, the Museum for the History of Science, and Christ Church, Oxford. In this blog, Dr Lauren Working, research associate on TIDE (Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, 1550-1700), an ERC-funded project led by Hakluyt Society Council member Prof Nandini Das, looks back on  #Hakluyt400.

The geographer and clergyman Richard Hakluyt died in good company: 1616 also marked the death of two internationally-renowned writers, William Shakespeare and the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and Cervantes’s re-working of chivalric romance have continued to grace school curricula and playhouses around the globe; by comparison, Hakluyt’s impact is less immediately apparent.

The Hakluyt Society, in conjunction with the Bodleian Library Museum for the History of Science and Museum for the History of Science in Oxford, held a two-day conference in November 2016 to examine Hakluyt’s legacy at the four-hundredth anniversary of his death. His two editions of The Principal Navigations, Traffiques, and Voiages of the English Nation (1589, enlarged 1598-1600), have long been considered some of the most important collections of English travel writing ever published, and the conference assembled an international cohort of speakers who presented current research on their work for the forthcoming 14-volume critical edition of The Principal Navigations.


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A number of scholars discussed the particularities of English interactions with indigenous peoples, from Africans in Guinea to the Algonquians in Virginia. Mary Fuller examined the casualties of Anglo-Inuit exchange in the English search for the Northwest Passage, and complicated the “us” vs. “them” mentality of English voyages by highlighting the heterogeneity and factions among ship crews.

Other papers engaged with the continuity between state policy and trade in the late middle ages and early modern period through Hakluyt’s inclusion of a fourteenth-century poem; the importance of naval history and the experience of seamen in effecting expansion; the mercantilist emphasis of Hakluyt’s second edition; and the English desire to exploit global markets, such as Indian cotton. Joyce Chaplin delivered a keynote lecture that argued that English attitudes towards natural resources and climate-based notions of human physiognomy set the groundwork for the enslavement of non-European peoples, to disastrous consequences.

Prof Nandini Das presenting on the place of India in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations. Hakluyt and the Renaissance Discovery of the World conference, Oxford.


The discussions that emerged from the papers centred around several key aspects of early modern global historiography, suggesting future avenues for research. One is the continuing development of environmental studies and ecocriticism as important approaches in the history of expansion, which was, after all, fundamentally about land and the exploitation of its resources. As Joyce Chaplin put it, pro-imperial authorities and their agents saw a relationship between economies and ecosystems. The Greek oikos and the Latin oeco were terms that denoted households, but also the management of the estates themselves.

Secondly, papers highlighted the need to reconstruct the experience of non-European peoples, especially their capacity to dictate the terms of Anglo-indigenous exchange. Surekha Davies pointed out that instances of the passive voice in Hakluyt might offer hints as to moments when indigenous peoples dominated colonial encounters, at times when Europeans struggled to successfully dictate the terms of the exchange.

Related to attempts to recalibrate approaches to intercultural encounters, other papers emphasised the value of using non-English-language sources to enhance and complicate global historiography. Persian accounts of English diplomatic missions, such as Anthony Jenkinson’s in the 1560s, both offer correctives to the source manipulation of Safavid chronicles while offering new perspectives on English writings about diplomatic encounters in the east.

Finally, presenters stressed the ongoing importance of tracing the intimate networks between patrons, merchants, gentlemen, and travel writers who produced knowledge about, and effected, empire, which was nothing if not a collaborative effort.

The conference concluded with a public lecture by the historian and BBC broadcaster Michael Wood, who used early modern travel narratives from Asia and South America to question the very idea of discovery: who, he asked, really “discovered” whom in any given exchange?

Michael Wood delivering the public lecture ‘Voyages, Traffiques, Discoveries’

Scholars today are wary of celebrating Hakluyt’s use of geography, given his imperial aims, but Principal Navigations remains a rich source for accessing the lives of individual agents, and for understanding large-scale historical change. To Hakluyt, the English would not thrive from insularity, and could only find themselves by engaging with the rest of the world.

Lauren Working is a historian of sixteenth and seventeenth-century English politics and culture. Her research examines the convergence between expansion and state formation, drawing on textual and archaeological sources to reconstruct the impact of colonization on the social and discursive worlds of Jacobean London. Lauren is a research associate on TIDE (Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, 1550-1700),  a five-year, ERC-funded project that aims to investigate how mobility in the age of travel and discovery shaped English perceptions of human identity based on cultural identification and difference. The project is headed by Professor Nandini Das at the University of Liverpool.

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‘Hakluyt & the Renaissance Discovery of the World’ – Conference Programme

Hakluyt & the Renaissance Discovery of the World

An international conference to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Richard Hakluyt (23rd November 1616)

Thursday 24th November 2016, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, & Friday 25th November 2016, Christ Church, Oxford

organised by Prof. Daniel Carey (NUI Galway), Prof. Claire Jowitt (University of East Anglia), and Mr. Anthony Payne (Hakluyt Society)

To register: https://chch.digitickets.co.uk/event/1592271?catID=6761

Hakluyt%40400 logo

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24th November, the Bodleian Library

 9.30AM–10.30AM arrival & coffee WESTON LIBRARY CONCOURSE


Hakluyt, Oxford, & centres of power

 Chair: Dr Sarah Tyacke (Hakluyt Society)

Prof. Sebastian Sobecki (University of Groningen): ‘Hakluyt and the Libelle of Englyshe Polycye

Prof. David Harris Sacks (Reed College): ‘Learning to Know: The Educations of Richard Hakluyt and Thomas Harriot’.

Anthony Payne (Hakluyt Society): ‘Hakluyt and Aristotle at Oxford’



 Chair: Dr Will Poole (Oxford)

‘the three corners of the world’ (William Shakespeare, King John)

Prof. Nandini Das (University of Liverpool): ‘Hakluyt and India’

Dr Felicity Stout (University of Sheffield): ‘Hakluyt and Russia’

Prof. Bernhard Klein (University of Kent): ‘Hakluyt and West Africa’



Chair: Prof. Will Ryan (Hakluyt Society)

Encounters, communication, & technology

Prof. Michael Leroy Oberg (SUNY Geneseo): ‘Tattoos, Towns, and Tribes: Using Hakluyt to Reconsider Algonquian Communities in “Virginia”’

Prof. Ladan Niayesh (Paris Diderot): ‘Under Persian Eyes: Hakluyt’s Corrective to Safavid Chronicles’

Prof. Surekha Davies (Western Connecticut State University) ‘Hakluyt, The Principal   Navigations, and Encounters with Indigenous Artefacts’


Chair: Capt. Mike Barritt, RN (Hakluyt Society)

Prof. Joyce E. Chaplin (Harvard): ‘“No Land Unhabitable, Nor Sea Innavigable”: Hakluyt’s Argument from Design’

 Followed by drinks reception 7.00PM–8.00PM, UPPER LIBRARY, CHRIST CHURCH


25th November, Christ Church


Chair: Prof. Joyce Lorimer (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Theatres of war, near & far

Prof. Carla Rahn Phillips (University of Minnesota): ‘Sarmiento’s Voyage to the South Atlantic and early 1580s International Politics’

Prof. Michael Brennan (University of Leeds): ‘Hakluyt, Howard of Effingham, and Naval Warfare’

 10.15AM-10.45AM coffee UPPER LIBRARY


 Rival ambitions

 Chair: Prof. Joyce Chaplin (Harvard)

Prof. Joan-Pau Rubiés (Catalan Institute for Advanced Research): ‘Imperial Emulation and the Making of The Principal Navigations

Prof. Daniel Carey (NUI Galway): ‘Hakluyt and the Clothworkers: Long Distance Trade and English Commercial Development’

12.NOON-1.00PM lunch REFECTORY


Telling tales

Chair: Dr Matthew Day (Newman University, Birmingham)

Prof. Mary Fuller (MIT): ‘Consent and Dissent at High Latitudes: The Voyages of John Davis’

Prof. Claire Jowitt (University of East Anglia): ‘Heroic Hakluyt?’

Prof. Joyce Lorimer (Wilfred Laurier University): ‘“Writing for service”: Lawrence Keymis’s Relation of the Second Voyage to Guiana (1596)’

2.40PM–3.00PM tea/coffee UPPER LIBRARY


 Chair: Prof. Andrew Lambert (King’s College London)

Influences & legacy

Dr Heather Dalton (Melbourne): ‘Hakluyt and the Cabots’

Prof. Michiel van Groesen (Leiden): ‘Hakluyt and De Bry’

Dr John Hemming (Hakluyt Society): ‘Clements Markham’s half-century for the Hakluyt Society’


 Chair: Prof. Jim Bennett (Hakluyt Society)

 Prof. Michael Wood (Manchester): ‘Voyages, Traffiques, Discoveries’

Michael Wood tells three stories from the Age of Exploration, looking at meetings between civilisations in Mexico, India and China, with a coda on the coast of Sierra Leone. Exploring these cross-cultural encounters, the talk looks at what they tell us about Western ways of seeing the world beyond Europe.

For information contact:




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The Cabot Project

After an absence that grew far too quickly, we’re happy to say that our newest blog post is indeed a particularly interesting one. Dr Heather Dalton (University of Melbourne) reveals the spectacular findings of collaborative research on the late fifteenth-century explorer John Cabot, who together with his son Sebastian set sail from Bristol for the New World in 1497. Based on the research of the Cabot Project, Dr Dalton argues that Bristol witnessed a period of intense exploratory activity during the 1490s and 1500s which remains poorly understood.

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In compiling Diverse Voyages (1582), Richard Hakluyt was keen to establish the historical precedent that ‘we of England’ had only to reclaim North America rather than conquer it. However, finding texts that proved that these lands ‘of equitie and right appertaine vnto us’ was problematic and Hakluyt opened this book with a document related to a voyage from Bristol led by a Genoese navigator. This was ‘A latine copie of the letters patentes of King Henrie the Seuenth, graunted vnto Iohn Gabote and his three sonnes, Lewes, Sebastian, and Santius, for the discouering of newe and vnknowen landes’. [See: Hakluyt Society First Series, no. 7] Although Hakluyt added works to Principal Navigations (1589) echoing Dee’s claim that England’s relationship with the Americas went back to the time of King Arthur, documents related to the voyages of John Cabot and his son Sebastian continued to be important to Hakluyt’s project.

The Cabot Project was set up in 2009 to investigate early Bristol discovery voyages and those of John Cabot in particular [See: Hakluyt Society Second Series, No. 120]. With the blessing of Henry VII, John Cabot (also known as Giovanni Caboto, Juan Cabotto or Zuan Chabotto) and his son Sebastian had set sail from Bristol in May 1497 across the Atlantic in the Matthew, a vessel of only 50 tons. Although Cabot’s landfall has not been identified, the official position of the Canadian and United Kingdom governments is that he was the first European to land on Newfoundland since the Vikings. Cabot thought he had landed in China and, after being rewarded by the king and granted a second patent, he sailed from Bristol again with four to five ships in May 1498. The fleet was last sighted off the Irish coast and it is generally accepted that Cabot was lost at sea.

TNA C82 332 piece 61 Weston letter text copy
Henry VII’s letter to John Morton, re William Weston, c. 1499, C82/332 piece 61 out of 74, TNA:PRO. Courtesy of The National Archives. 

Click here for an annotated transcription of the letter.

The initial aim of the Cabot Project’s instigator, Dr Evan Jones (University of Bristol), was to investigate the research claims of the late Dr Alwyn Ruddock, a Reader at Birkbeck College. Dr Ruddock dominated research into Bristol’s voyages from the 1960s, making finds that promised to ‘revolutionise’ our understanding of Europe’s early engagement with North America. However, Ruddock never published her key findings and, after her death in 2005, her work was destroyed in keeping with her instructions. After much detective work, Dr Jones and his research partner, Margaret Condon, a Henry VII specialist, found evidence supporting many of Ruddock’s claims, including: that there was a greater royal commitment to Cabot’s ventures than hitherto thought; and that Cabot returned from his 1498 voyage. Another significant find indicates that William Weston, a Bristol merchant and associate of Cabot, led an expedition to the ‘New Found Land’ circa 1499. An article by Dr Jones and Ms Condon about this previously unknown, first English-led voyage to the Americas is to be published shortly.

Dr Francesco Guidi Bruscoli (University of Florence & Queen Mary, London) and I joined the project in the summer of 2010. Dr Bruscoli has recently published articles in both English and Italian, focusing on his recent finds regarding John Cabot’s Italian financiers. My research centres on John Cabot’s son, Sebastian, and my book, Merchants and Explorers: Roger Barlow, Sebastian Cabot and Networks of Atlantic Exchange and Discovery, 1500 – 1560, will be published by Oxford University Press in 2016. Others associated with the project include: Prof Peter Pope (Memorial University, Newfoundland); Dr Fernando Cervantes, Mr Gonzalo Velasco Berenguer, Dr Richard Stone and Ms Tricha Passes (University of Bristol); Dr Jeffrey Reed (Washington D.C.); and Ms Susan Snelgrove (Newfoundland).

The core work of the project to date reveals how poor our understanding of early voyaging has been and suggests that there was a period of intense exploration activity in Bristol, beginning before Cabot arrived at the port in 1495 and lasting until at least 1508. Further details regarding ongoing findings and publications, funding and opportunities for research can be found at: 


Dr Heather Dalton is an ARC Early Career Research Fellow, and Honorary Associate Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence History of Emotions, at the University of Melbourne. She is also a member of The Cabot Project at the University of Bristol and in 2013 was a Resident Research Visitor at the Advanced Studies Centre, Keble College, Oxford. Her work deals with merchant networks in the fifteenth and sixteenth-century Atlantic as well as with trade and exploration in the Atlantic and Pacific regions more widely.

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