18th Century Europeans and the Pacific

English: Maris Pacifici by Abraham Ortelius. T...

English: Maris Pacifici by Abraham Ortelius. This map was published in 1589 in his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. It was not only the first printed map of the Pacific, but it also showed the Americas for the first time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What role did cultural artifacts and the imagination play in helping ordinary 18th-century Europeans see themselves as enlightened connoisseurs of the exotic?

Cultural artifacts and imagination played a major role in helping ordinary 18th-century Europeans see themselves as enlightened connoisseurs of the exotic. They wrote numerous plays and stories which incorporated utopian and unrealistic portrayals of life in the South Pacific. Travel writing and mass produced images excited European imaginations, and museums with cultural artifacts from the Pacific solidified this excitement within the culture. But all of these representations of the Pacific were really representations of European own “hopes” and dreams for their societies (Outram 52).

What sort of figure emerges from Outram’s discussion of Captain Cook? A morally conscientious and culturally sensitive individual in search of “knowledge”?  A self-interested, worldly entrepreneur in search of profit?  What is the relationship in the period between “knowledge”and profit? Was the former merely a form of the latter?

Captain Cook appears to be a morally conscientious and culturally sensitive individual in search of “knowledge.” Cook does not buy into the utopian portrayals of the Pacific and doubts that a western man can really get to know a distant culture.  During this time and this is probably true of any globalization efforts, motivations for gathering knowledge through travel were based on profit. Voyages were funded to strengthen empires, and develop and exploit the colonies. Nevertheless, Cook appears to be less interested in greed than he is in acquiring knowledge. He was displeased with his ghost writer who embellished his adventures because he was more interested in the truth about the Pacific than he was in fantasy of that utopian place. Overall, according to Outram, Cook was more a cultural explorer who was more interested in people and places than in material goods and profits.

Outram, D. The Enlightenment. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University. 2005. Print.

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