ABSTRACTS OF PAPERS
THE 49th ANNUAL MEETING OF
THE SOCIETY FOR THE HISTORY OF DISCOVERIES
Arlington, Texas, USA
5-7 October 2008
ARRANGED ALPHABETICALLY BY AUTHOR
The Ends of the Earth:
How Polar Ice and Imagination Shape the World
Geoffrey L. Brackett
Never has the interrelationship between who we think we are and what we think about the Polar Regions been more intimate, explored, and problematic than in our current age. Although the worlds of the Arctic and Antarctic seem closer than ever today, these parts of the globe have long held a central place in our collective imagination, serving as critical points of reference for philosophers, poets, scientists, and explorers of almost every land. In this paper I explore the history of the association between the polar worlds and the Western human imagination through famous literary texts and other works. Starting with classical myth, as well as the histories of Polybius and Pliny in the Ancient world, working through several important journals of discovery in the Renaissance including Pigafetta’s journal from Magellan’s circumnavigation, and Sir Francis Drake’s The World Encompassed, I explore the impact these texts had on the major cartographical representations of the world during the period, including those of Lopo Homem in the Atlas Miller (1519) and Abraham Ortelius’ Typus Orbis Terrarum (1570). This paper will also trace the impact of Cook’s Journals on the imaginative work of the Romantic Period, and outline the impact of the Age of Exploration on the twentieth-century view of the polar realms. The central tenet of this paper is that the Arctic and the Antarctic are critical reference points for how human beings have viewed our place in the world, and as our perception of the poles has changed so has our collective human understanding. The change in the perception of the poles is tied, of course, to the history of scientific and geographical exploration, but the interplay between the cartographical records linked to discovery and the literary and historical texts examined here illustrate a paradox that we are just coming to see in our current age: that while our scientific understanding of these regions has increased, the declining mythical power of these terrae incognitae has eliminated a critical reverence we once had for these realms.
This paper is based on a talk I gave February 3, 2008 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City as part of the International Polar Year Conference. For the SHD Conference I wish to expand this discussion by examining the interplay between the literary imagination and the cartographic representation of the world at significant points of Western exploratory history.
Charles Boucher of Jamaica and the Determination of Longitude
From the sixteenth century onwards, English (and other) navigators puzzled over ways in which to ascertain longitude. Eventually, this problem would be solved by Harrison's chronometer, but for many years some form of celestial observation seemed equally promising. One line of investigation opened up in the 1670s. The astronomer Edmond Halley, of comet fame, had been at Cambridge in the early 1670s with a certain Charles Boucher, whose family seems to have been among the early English settlers in Jamaica. Halley and Boucher had sometimes conducted astronomical observations together, and so when Boucher began to make preparations to go back to the island in 1674, it seemed a good opportunity for him to undertake observations from this site, which was roughly due west of Greenwich, where the Royal Observatory was getting established under the direction of John Flamsteed.
When Boucher left, he took with him such books and instruments as Halley recommended, in order to make the necessary observations. He was, alas, wrecked on the island of Navasa as he approached Jamaica, and lost most of his equipment. Still, when he reached Jamaica, he borrowed the Governor's three-foot telescope and began sending observations back to Halley, as a result of which the figure for Jamaica's longitude was corrected by five degrees.
Boucher then went on to a political career in Jamaica, and slowly lost touch with his English contacts. Still, the value of his observations may be judged from the fact that as late as 1694, in his correspondence with Sir Isaac Newton, astronomer royal Flamsteed, a friend of Halley's, was making use of the Boucher's figures. In this paper, I mean to throw some light on these developments, using not only the printed correspondence of figures like Edmond Halley, John Flamsteed and Sir Isaac Newton, but also some manuscript material, now held at the Royal Society and at Cambridge University Library.
Nobody before has thought of studying Charles Boucher, but it seems to me that his career throws an interesting light on the problems which faced navigators at this time.
The Digital Repackaging of Nicholas Comberford’s
1666 Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean
Karen Severud Cook and George F. McCleary, Jr.
Upon the poop or rear part of the galley … is … the castle from which the rudder hangs down into the sea, above which in a latticed cabin sits the helmsman holding the tiller in his hand. The castle has three decks. On the uppermost is the pilot, who reads the marine compass there and gives orders accordingly. There are also star and wind watchers who … have other instruments with which to judge the course of the stars, the direction of the wind, and the sea route. They have a chart, which has a scale in inches showing length and breadth, on which many lines are drawn across the sea and on which places are marked by dots and the number of miles. Over this chart they lean and can see where they are even when no land is visible, and the sky is hidden by clouds.
During 2008 this translated extract from Brother Felix Faber’s 1483 pilgrimage manuscript (first published Stuttgart, 1843) and other primary sources will become accessible at the University of Kansas website, together with Nicholas Comberford’s 1666 Mediterranean portolan chart.
This achievement will enable us to take undergraduate classes beyond show-and-tell to individual study of some of Spencer Research Library’s rare books, maps and manuscripts. Chief among the barriers were limited library hours and students’ inability to read foreign texts. A map with familiar coastlines would be more readable than a book, we reasoned. In 2004 we set out to digitize Comberford’s chart and other sources providing historical context. University computer support eased the technical steps. Any computer connected to the Internet can provide access. Zoomable software makes the tiny foreign placenames more legible than the original.
The hard task was selecting primary sources, transcribing and translating extracts, and crafting a 60-to-90-minute exercise leading students to an understanding of the map and its milieu. Students in George F. McCleary’s map use and map making courses, as well as the history of cartography course that we co-teach, formed both target audience and test subjects.
We began with the question, “Why were portolan sea charts, a tradition born in the Mediterranean almost five hundred years earlier, still being used by English mariners in 1666, a century after the invention of the Mercator projection?” This led to other questions, and we searched Spencer Research Library for texts, maps and pictures offering answers. Realization dawned that our findings were also relevant to the history of the Mediterranean wine trade. With several wine sources added, the website could also serve McCleary’s course on the geography of wine.
The present paper explains our choice of primary sources and the content of the exercises based on them. Copies of the history-of-cartography course exercise will be distributed in hopes of audience feedback that will help us to expand and improve both website and exercise.
Although numerous secondary sources were read for background information, the primary sources at our website are the heart of this paper. The selection, organization and interpretation of these primary sources results from our collaborative research supported by three small University of Kansas research grants.
David Thompson and the Source of the Mississippi
Gary A. Davis
Chapter XVIII of David Thompson’s Narrative is titled “Discover the Scource of the Mississippe.” In contrast to most of his travels before and after, the only objective of Thompson’s 1797-1798 journey for the Northwest Company was exploration. In this presentation I will argue the following points:
(1) The route followed by Thompson was essentially that used previously by fur traders to travel between Red Lake and Lake Superior. Thompson was guided over this route, and qualitative knowledge regarding the Mississippi headwaters pre-dated Thompson’s survey.
(2) A distinctive feature of Thompson’s survey is a clear drive on his part to cover distance rapidly. In contrast, accurate determination of latitude and especially, longitude, using the available astronomical tools required averaging a number of individual determinations, which generally meant extended stays. Thompson appears to have deliberately sacrificed accuracy for speed.
(3) There are definite similarities in how the Mississippi headwaters are depicted in Aaron Arrowsmith’s 1802 map of North America and Thompson’s 1814 map, which do not appear in either the map accompanying Alexander MacKenzie’s book or in Arrowsmith’s earlier maps. The probable link between Arrowsmith and Thompson, as Victor Hopwood has suggested, is MacKenzie.
Sources: (1) is supported with evidence from Thompson’s journals, Perrault’s narrative, and Chaboillez’s journal. (2) is supported with evidence from Thompson’s journals and astronomical notebooks, and published material on astronomical methods. (3) is supported by comparing digitized versions of Thompson’s, Arrowsmith’s and MacKenzie’s maps.
Writing the New World:
Ship’s Logs, Journals, and Readers
Richard C. Davis
Expedition leaders typically wrote many different accounts of their explorations, even though most readers are familiar with only one. What usually began as terse remarks in the ship’s log or in field notes later resurfaced in expedition journals, official and personal correspondence, and reports to scientific and governmental agencies. Some leaders ultimately enshrined their responses to the New World in published narratives. In spite of these multiple accounts addressed to and composed for different audiences, the published narratives – usually the only accounts available to general readers – have been privileged with unwarranted authority. Nevertheless, because the published accounts were the only ones accessible to the lay reader, they have been highly influential in shaping the public’s image of the unknown.
Focusing primarily on Britain’s nineteenth-century exploration of its empire, this paper examines some of the written incarnations in which exploration documents routinely took form. In particular, it looks at John Franklin’s attempt to “shortcut” through this typical linear sequence of multiple accounts. The paper also looks at a few accounts of Charles Sturt’s expedition to the center of Australia and how the popular desire to privilege one single text has created some interesting confusions.
French Merchants and Missionaries on the Early Modern Slave Coast
The paper examines an expedition of French Dominicans to the Slave Coast in 1687 led by Père Gonsalvez François. His description of the expedition survives in both a published and manuscript version. While the published version presents a highly formulaic portrayal of a missionary in West Africa, the paper argues that in the manuscript version he appears as a practical and pragmatic missionary walking a thin line between merchant nationalist interests, religious zeal, and the interests of the Africans by focusing on the Dutch as the primary impediment to conversion.
A Frisian Raid in North America of about 1040 AD:
Probabilities and Possibilities
Donald D. Hogarth
Adam of Bremen tells of a northwest, mid-11th century Frisian voyage. Evidence for the voyage, directed from northwest Saxony, up the coasts of England and Scotland, past the Orkneys, to Iceland, is compelling but, hereafter, the route becomes less certain. Facts suggest the voyagers touched the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and landed at a pre-planned site, with malicious intent (retribution). Pirated goods, wrestled from the incumbent Vikings, may have been delivered to the Catholic Church at Bremen, along with a concocted cover-up for the Frisians’ own piracy. Adam's manuscripts (copies) date from about 1100 AD, printed versions from 1579, and discussion of the Frisian voyage from 1608. Criticism followed and, in recent years, the story has been downgraded to outright invention. The present paper is a synthesis of old and newly uncovered facts that will, I hope, elevate the narrative from "inconceivable" to "possible" status.
‘Today We Lost the Path and Stopped’:
The Elusive Journey of Vial and Fragoso Across Texas in 1788
Robert N. Jones, Jr.
Among the many little-known treasures in the archival collection of the Texas General Land Office, the oldest state agency in Texas, is the diary of Francisco Xavier Fragoso. Fragoso was the official chronicler of the expedition headed by Pedro Vial to find a direct route between Santa Fe and Natchitoches. The diary is one of only two copies prepared by Fragoso contemporaneously with his travels. The other is in the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla, Spain. Two copies made later by Fragoso are in the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City.
In a fresh attempt to shed light on this important early exploration of Spain’s far flung empire, a new translation of the Land Office copy of the diary has been made by Galen Greaser, the agency’s Spanish Translator and Archivist. For the first time, a complete translation of the General Land Office copy of the Fragoso diary is available. No complete translation of this document has yet been published. This new work will serve as the basis for the present paper.
Additional documents in the Land Office have been consulted regarding the diary, as well as a copy of the expedition map prepared by Fragoso and sent to Spain with the version of his diary now housed at Sevilla. Robert Skiles, staff archeologist for the General Land Office, has assisted the present author in analyzing and reconstructing potential routes of the Vial expedition based on this newly available research material. Use was made of the extensive resources of the Land Office in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and Computer-aided Design (CAD) systems to compile and analyze the most accurate information possible about the location of natural features noted by Fragoso. This paper will present a summary of these new and innovative research findings.
The purpose of this paper is to take a fresh look at the Pedro Vial expedition of 1788 utilizing newly available, unpublished source material on file at the Texas General Land Office. This material, in synthesis with the latest advances in cartographic technology, will allow the author to reevaluate the work of earlier historians, particularly Herbert E. Bolton, who have attempted to chart the route of Vial and his men. In the end, precision in locating the route awaits corroboration by archeological evidence. This paper will provide scholars with a fresh perspective from which to build upon.
The Error-Filled History of Córdoba’s Discovery of Mexico:
A Replay of Similar Errors in the Discovery Voyages
of Columbus and Juan Ponce de León
Douglas T. Peck
The two most significant errors in current accounts of the 1517 voyage of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba in which he discovered Yucatan and Mexico are related to: (1) the purpose of the voyage, and (2) the true geographical landing site on Yucatan. These two significant elements of an exploration voyage of discovery are substantially the same as the two most controversial elements that have plagued the historiography of the discovery voyages of Columbus (1492) and Juan Ponce de León (1513). Because Córdoba’s voyage was conducted without crown approval, the purpose of the voyage was not spelled out in an official document and the strict rules for maintaining a detailed navigational log and journal of the voyage were not required or accomplished. Accordingly, the purpose of the voyage and the landfall on Yucatan must be derived from unclear, contradictory, and ambiguous secondary accounts written long after the voyage was performed.
In spite of this hurdle, a searching review and analysis of the several extant accounts of the voyage has established these two conclusions that are strikingly similar in context to those of Columbus and particularly those of Ponce de León:
(1) Although most historians report that Córdoba’s purpose was “kidnapping slaves,” this study has firmly established with ample reliable evidence that Córdoba’s agrarian plantations on Cuba were well supplied with slaves and the purpose of his voyage was “to discover and explore new lands.”
(2) While most historians place Córdoba’s landfall at the extreme northeastern point of Yucatan shown on modern charts as “Cabo Catoche,” he actually landed and anchored much further south in the Isla Mujeres-Punta Cancun area which he had named “Cabo Catoche.” Córdoba’s original and true “Cabo Catoche” was arbitrarily moved by cartographers in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century to its more northern false location which is the reason that academic historians with only superficial knowledge of navigation and marine geography and cartography related to the voyage have established that northern inaccurate location for Córdoba’s landing.
Pineda to Powell: Revealing the North American Greater Southwest
The Greater Southwest was one of the first regions of North America entered by the Europeans during the post-Columbian era of discovery and exploration, but it also was one of the last thoroughly comprehended. It comprises more than a million and a half square miles of largely arid and semi-arid lands of present-day northern Mexico and the southwestern United States and was sparsely populated by an amazing diversity of peoples, fauna, and flora, most of which was distinctly alien to its early European beholders. Beginning with Alonzo Álvarez Pineda’s initial investigation of the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico in 1519 and until at least the late nineteenth century and John Wesley Powell’s explorations and administration of the U.S. Geological Survey, a continual succession of Spanish, French, Mexican, and American explorers made their separate contributions to this expanse’s revelation.
This opening presentation briefly will seek to explain how the early European explorers and their later North American successors came to know, understand, accommodate, and master the unique environment of the Greater Southwest. As in the case of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s entrada of 1539-1542, they often did not find what they hoped for, nor did they immediately understand what they did come across. In the process, how they recorded and transmitted what they discovered (in official reports, personal memoirs, maps, etc.) and the broader effect of this information beyond the region also will be considered. In this regard, for example, the growing, more scientific role of the military, after the founding of the Spanish Royal Corps of Engineers in 1711, in the mapping of the region will be examined. And finally, the lasting impact of the period of discovery and exploration on the Mexican and American parts of the Greater Southwest will be discussed as well.
Henry Hudson and the Bastard Map: Espionage, Hijacking,
Intellectual Property Theft, and the March Toward Globalization;
Lost Chapters in the History of European Exploration, A.D. 1190–1610
Carl G. Schuster
During the summer of 2009, aficionados of history worldwide will mark the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s first voyage to North America during which he discovered the Delaware and Hudson rivers. An expert mariner and keen observer, Hudson epitomized the spirit of discovery that swept through Europe during the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment, his daring life of adventure made all the more tragic with his mysterious disappearance, having been set adrift by his mutinous shipmates on his fourth and final voyage, in 1611.
Amid all the fanfare however, few will remember this great hero of the Age of Exploration as a privateer, a hijacker, intelligencer, and covert agent of the English monarch, James I. Nor are they likely to realize that far from being the first European to lay eyes on North American’s great inland sea that today bears his name—Hudson Bay—he was a relative latecomer in plying its brackish waters. Venturing there on information purloined from the Dutch during his third voyage in 1609, Hudson was following up on age-old data, his voyage of 1610 expected to confirm the existence of a new source of wealth to British crown.
Hudson was not looking for the fabled Northwest Passage as historians would tell us, nor was he the source of the vast information now attributed to him. Instead, he was an operative working in a covert world of cartographers, alchemists, and heretics at the highest levels of the British court.
Far from being an itinerant ship's master, Hudson was employed by the strategic planners of the incipient British Empire, who in turn masterminded the Muscovy Company, The British East India Company, and The Hudson’s Bay Company. In addition, Hudson, at the behest of his English employers, hi-jacked the VOC ship Haelf Maen, and looted the VOC map archive. These four trading companies, in the next century, would commercially extend European power throughout the world; Hudson was the common factor in all of these companies.
Through an examination of Hudson’s own logs, a geophysical assessment of Hudson Bay, and a detailed reportage of the intrigue that pervaded intellectual circles of Europe in the wake of the Crusades, “Henry Hudson and the Bastard Map” will provide fresh insight into the events of this pivotal period, the amplified consequences of which continue to be felt today.
This presentation is a completely new take on the Hudson story. I have integrated geophysical and climatic research by others, as well as drawing on sources such as hydrographic records and documents. A good deal of the Elizabethan and Jacobean story is built on primary evidence, such as the various maps which reflect on who was where when. I use original documents to describe key players in this fascinating drama. This paper is an expansion on an article done for The Beaver Magazine in 1999.
The SHD, Vitus Bering, and Me: A Personal Journey
Words describing movement—words like “travel,” “journey,” “voyage,” and odyssey”—are heard often at meetings of the Society for the History of Discoveries. In this presentation I will describe my personal journey. Born in California and raised in the prairie country of southwestern Minnesota, the thought that I would become a specialist in the history of the eighteenth-century Vitus Bering expeditions would be bizarre, to say the least. A good part of the reason for the development of my professional specialty has been my association with the SHD, and especially with Jack Parker and Ray Fisher. I have traveled to Siberia, Alaska, the Aleutian Islands and many destinations in Europe for research. In my study of early maps, books, and manuscripts, I have learned much about historical sources and their use (and misuse) and will share some of that experience with the Society for the History of Discoveries.