Journals of Captain Cook Go Online

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
February 7, 2002

"Some of the Natives brought a long side in one of their Canoes four of the heads of the men they had lately kill'd, both the Hairy-scalps and skin of the faces were on: Mr Banks bought one of the four, but they would not part with any of the other on any account whatever the one Mr Banks got had received a blow on the Temple that had broke the skull…"

In this journal entry describing a dramatic meeting of cultures in the South Pacific on January 20, 1770, the legendary explorer Captain James Cook fails to mention the price that his companion Banks paid for his grisly merchandise.

Cook and his crew aboard the Endeavour roamed the South Pacific from 1768 to 1771, lingering in Tahiti before setting off in search of a long-rumored southern continent. Cook went on to circumnavigate the north and south islands of New Zealand and to sail the entire length of Australia's east coast, which had never before been sighted by a European.

Significant as Cook's journeys were geographically, they were matched by achievements in other fields of scientific inquiry.

The detailed cultural and astronomical observations of Cook and his companions answered many questions, and raised some new ones, back in Europe. Joseph Banks—whose own journal often found him "in the woods, botanizing as usual"—cataloged an array of flora and fauna that was staggering in both scope and scientific value.

The records describe a world that has been forever altered, and peoples whose unique identities would not long remain unchanged.

Now, after more than two centuries, the observations of Cook and his companions during their much-heralded journeys in the South Seas are enjoying a rebirth under a project to make these and similar records of early explorers available online.

Virtual Journey

The South Seas Project is a collaborative effort to "democratize this knowledge so that interested people can tap into it," said team member Vanessa Agnew, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.

Academic and scholarly organizations involved in the project include the Center for Cross-Cultural Research at Australian National University, the National Library of Australia, the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Center at the University of Melbourne, the State Library of New South Wales, H-Net, Humanities and Social Sciences Online, and James Cook University.

The goal is to produce an online "companion" to James Cook's momentous first voyage of discovery, the organizers say. The effort entails much more than reproducing Cook's journals in digital form.

The material will include a vast amount of contextual information that gives readers a much greater understanding of the culture and conditions surrounding the famous expeditions.

Continued on Next Page >>


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