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Week 3


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									ENGL6080 – Travel Writing and Culture

Notes, Reading and Discussion Topics for Weeks 3

Voyages of Exploration and Discovery 
From Columbus to Captain Cook

The Age of Discovery

The Early Modern Period in Europe (also referred to as the Age of Discovery) can be said to
begin with Columbus's 'discovery' of the Americas in 1492. Although it was Vasco da Gama in
1497-99 who fulfilled the medieval dream of finding a direct trade route to the riches of the
Orient. Columbus, Vasco Da Gama and other western explorers were greatly assisted by the work
                                   of Henry the Navigator of Portugal (d. 1460). Henry began
                                   the modern development of navigational method that would
                                   enable European maritime powers to cross the oceans,
                                   circumnavigate the world and eventually dominate the globe.
                                   The Caravel was the generic design of boat that came to be
                                   identified with this period of exploration, and although a
                                   western product, it combined and improved on features from
                                   the Chinese Junk and the Arab Dhow, both of which had
                                   proven ocean-going capabilities.

Columbus's discovery of what was to become known as the New World, was a breakthrough in
European geography and mapmaking. It also marked a shift towards a more secular, more
scientific and more 'modern' society. The Old World of religious certainties and Classical
knowledge gradually gave way to new systems of knowledge based on the witnessing and
measurement of empirical data, the construction of charts, tables, taxonomies: science and
rationalism, as the basis for a system of knowledge about the world. Columbus was hardly a man
of science, and in his Journals we find considerable reference to God, providence and destiny, but
he is a useful marker for the beginning of the early modern period.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the quest for knowledge and the spirit of modern
enterprise often led to greed, patriotic fervor and a will to power manifesting itself in five
hundred years of European expansion and colonialism. In the 16th century, European explorers
continued to explore and colonise North and South America, and to press further East along the
sea routes charted by the Portuguese around Africa to Goa, Malacca and Macao. By 1600,
Portuguese colonies were strung out along the sea routes around Africa, to the Middle East, India
and China. This empire of islands and coastal enclaves were trading posts and Christian missions
in equal measure were established – the beachheads of colonialism.

In South America, the Portuguese and Spanish colonists ventured further inland, destroying most
of the indigenous population (see De Las Casas’s account below). Here, as later in North
America, the Europeans swept away local resistance, claiming the whole continent for
Christendom. There was fierce competition between Spain and Portugal, and later France and
Britain for these possessions which often changed hands between European powers.
                                       Where Polo and Mandeville saw wonder and marvels in
                                       the Indies and the Orient, post-Columbian colonialists
                                       promoted the New World, as a virgin land, peopled by
                                       'primitive savages' generally depicted as cannibals, or
                                       living in wretched poverty, or childlike and in need of
                                       protection and education. In the first phase of colonialism,
                                       the new Christian rulers were mostly concerned with
                                       finding gold and pressing forced labour from indigenous
                                       peoples (and brutally crushing resistance) – there would of
course be exceptions, but this was the general rule.

Between 1500 and 1600, much of the East (East Indies, India, China) and the West (West Indies,
North and South America) was opened up to European shipping. Maps and charts (often jealously
guarded) were produced to enable shortest routes to be plotted between Europe and her colonies.
Only the Great Southern Land - Australia and New Zealand had not yet been fully mapped,
although the Portuguese had certainly 'discovered' the North coast of the Australian continent in
the 17th century by sailing south from their colonies in the East Indies. But it was Captain Cook's
expeditions in the 1770's that really put the South Sea Islands, New Zealand and Australia on the
map. Cook’s maps and charts were state-of-the-art representations of the world, especially of the
Southern Hemisphere, a good deal of which he had sailed across. Cooks’ mission was not, in the
first instance, one to colonize, but to survey, map and establish bases where the English maritime
fleet could stop for provisions and refitting. Cook was very critical of the colonization of the
Americas, and saw no advantage in subjecting the people of Australia and the South Seas to a
similar fate.

The Discourse of Discovery and Exploration 

In the writings of Columbus and Cook (see also e.g. Ralegh and Barbosa below) we can see the
development of a particular kind of travel writing - the supposedly factual accounts of discovery
by Europeans of hitherto unknown lands (Terra Incognita). As new lands were discovered, they
would inevitably fall under the imperial gaze of European travellers – at least this is how
postcolonial discourse has come to view the whole body of exploration narratives during the
colonial period. The general argument is that exploration is the outward manifestation of a will to
power, and the knowledge gained through such travel is the pathway to achieving domination
over the territory surveyed. Accepting this general argument, we need to look then at the
variations and the exceptions within the discourse of travel, and at the different ways in which
that discourse has been subsequently construed.

In looking at the writings of Columbus and Cook, we are looking across several hundred years of
colonialism, and the considerable shift in style, tone, and language we find can be related to the
shifting history of empire, especially the accumulation of scientific knowledge and the evolution
of modern ideas, aesthetics and philosophies that shaped western modernity.

Discovery and Wonder:

For Columbus, the description of the Indies presents a huge problem. Although these lands and
people have never before been represented in the West, Columbus has convinced himself that he
has reached the Earthly Paradise in the East, and is close to Cathay. He is deluded, and for some
critics, Columbus is not a modern explorer because his rationalism and empiricism is often
overtaken by preconceptions and stubborn faith. Rather than describing simply what he sees,
Columbus appears to embellish his accounts, turning the Indies into a new Earthly Paradise, or
Garden of Eden. It was common for artists and writers to represent the Indies as a new and
unfallen world. Columbus sometimes evokes romantic images of Spain to describe the Indies, and
there is an unreal, dreamlike quality to his vision of the Indies within the context of Spanish
empire. Columbus seems quite capable of self-delusion as his search for Cathay and the Kublai
Khan (and his gold) becomes an increasingly hopeless quest. Although he will always be
associated with the discovery of America, his actual achievements were limited to a few landings
in the West Indies and South America. He never set foot in North America, and although he
names places in his Journal, these names were superseded by later explorers who produced more
accurate charts, and little practical information was ever derived from his voyages.

Columbus's accomplishments are principally those of discovery and conveying wonder then, and
his language and style tend towards this narrative mode (note that the more matter-of-fact parts of
the log are not written by Columbus, whose narrative begins when land is finally discovered). We
can think of Columbus more as a late medieval traveller than a modern explorer, because
although he may have stumbled into America, he seems incapable of translating his findings into
a modern worldview. He didn’t so much discover America as stumble across it in the mistaken
belief that he had rediscovered Polo’s Cathay.

Exploration and Knowledge.

Columbus never had the chance to capitalise on his discoveries, as did later explorers and
opportunists such as Sir Walter Ralegh who pressed on into the interior of South America,
describing and quantifying the land and its peoples. Ralegh's description of his journey up the
Orinoco seems well-informed and life-like. Where Columbus seems overawed by the beauty of
the landscape and overwhelmed emotionally by what he has achieved, Ralegh enters the
landscape heroically, but with a level head, rowing up the Orinoco river, communicating with the
natives (compare with Columbus who tries to 'read' the signs of the natives, but in a kind of dumb
show, open to mistranslation and misunderstanding) and gaining practical knowledge about the
place and its people. Ralegh's exploration is not, however, innocent, nor is it written in plain
scientific language. Ralegh uses his considerable literary skills to impress the court of Elizabeth I,
where literary prowess could still be the mark of a Soldier/Knight. Literariness is turned to
propaganda here to incite British colonisation of the Indies. (e.g. p. 163)

Science and Surveying.

Cook is a prime example of the modern scientific explorer. Of course, his voyages come nearly
three hundred years after Columbus, and his motives are not primarily political or financial gain,
but rather the accumulation of scientific knowledge. Such knowledge is still part of imperialist
thinking, and the Royal Society and the Admiralty in England, sponsored many scientific
expeditions, at least in part for political and military reasons. Given the geopolitics of the time,
(American War of Independence and war with France), it is difficult to separate Cook’s
explorations with England's imperialist ambitions. The maps, charts and other scientific data on
currents, weather systems as well as flora and fauna would provide invaluable practical
information for colonization. Even the project of mapping, charting and classifying the world, its
people, and wildlife, can be construed as essentially that of an imperialist mindset and worldview.
The first British settlement in Australia was called Botany Bay, indicating how important was the
business of 'botanising'. Note Cook's great disappointment when the goats and sheep he has
brought all the way from England die almost immediately from eating poisoned plants, so
dashing his attempts to bring English agriculture to the South Seas.

Christopher Columbus

Who was Christopher Columbus? 
Most scholars believe that Columbus was originally from
Genoa (in present day Italy), probably the son of a weaver. His family background is sketchy,
however, and he never revealed much information about his origins, possibly because of some
scandal. Like Venice, Genoa was a major commercial centre for trade with the East and North
Africa. Columbus took part in several trading expeditions across the Mediterranean, and later,
when he moved to Portugal, Columbus sailed with the Portuguese down the African coast, and
later sailed to Britain and Iceland. He spent ten years studying the problem of getting to the Indies
(the East via the Western passage). After much effort, he persuaded Queen Isabella of Spain to
sponsor him.

What was Columbus Searching For? 
 - Cathay. He was convinced of a Western Route to the
Indies and China. The main goal of Columbus's expedition was to discover, and then presumably
to claim by force, the East for his Spanish sponsors. The main prizes were gold (Europe needed
more gold currency) and spices (highly lucrative trade) also silks, pearls, jewels etc. The
commodities were known to exist in the East as they had been traded for some time overland
(along the Silk Route) and via sea routes between Arabia and India.

The land route to the East, via present day Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan was closed by a curtain
drawn between East and West by the Ottoman Turks (1345), and China closed its borders as the
Mongol Empire retracted after Chinese nationalism expelled the descendants of the Grand Khan
in 1368 (rise of Ming dynasty). Sea routes to India and the East were still used, but there was no
direct sea passage for Europeans - goods had to be carried overland between the Mediterranean
and the Arabian port of Hormuz. The direct sea route via Africa was forged by the Portuguese
(see above), while Columbus was still floundering in the West Indies and the coast of South

So there were a number of reasons that made taking a western sea route to China attractive.
Columbus became obsessed with the idea, persuading himself and others, against the weight of
contemporary geographical evidence, that such a voyage was feasible.

Columbus and Geography 
Columbus believed in the spherical earth, as did most western
geographers since the time of the Greeks. Aristotle noticed the earth made a circular shadow on
the moon - Pythagoreans believed that only a perfect spherical figure could encompass the world
- Ptolemy first attempted to map the globe, but without accurate longitudes, with insufficient trig
points, and too small a spheroid model.

Columbus took an incorrect measurement of the circumference of the earth (18,000 miles instead
of the 25,000 plus miles that Eratosthenes (276-194 BC) had calculated. He also over-estimated
the land mass of Asia as it extended eastwards, calculating that there were only 3,500 miles
between the Canaries and Kinsai (Hang Chow) (6-8 weeks journey?).

Columbus and the Pull of the East 
Columbus was so determined to prove his theory that he seems
to have deliberately overlooked or ignored contemporary science. His estimate of the distance
from Spain to China was hopelessly inaccurate, depending on a false estimate of the size of the
earth, a false estimate of the land mass of Asia, PLUS some further reductions. It is just possible
that Columbus knew that it was not possible to sail to China, but guessed (rightly) that there was
another land mass before China. But in order to ‘sell’ the expedition, Columbus had to capture the
imagination of his sponsors with promises of grabbing the treasures of the East. It is also just
possible that Isabella knew that Columbus was wrong, but was nevertheless prepared to back the
possibility of finding new lands to colonise. The Spanish expelled the Moors (Muslims) from
Granada (in southern Spain) in 1492, the last stronghold in their own land, and were seeking to
emulate the Portuguese who had taken the fight against the Muslims to North Africa and had
already begun to expand their territories abroad.

There can be little doubt that the representations of the East produced by Polo and Mandeville
had some impact on the imagination of explorers and sea adventurers like Columbus. The prize of
eventually finding the legendary Cathay exerted a considerable pull.

                                           The Journeys 

                                           First expedition:

                                            Columbus set off with three boats from Spain on 3
                                            August 1492. These were the Nina, Pinta and Santa
                                            Maria. Pinta’s rudder broke after three days. Stopped
                                            at Canaries for three weeks. Left on Sept. 6th - saw
                                            land on Oct. 12th. The land was probably San
                                            Salvador (Watling Island) in the Bahamas. He
                                            explored several islands and moved on to Cuba,
thinking he had reached an island off China. He sent messengers to the Grand Khan. Santa Maria
was wrecked off Hispaniola and the captain of the Pinta went off on his own, leaving the small
Nina – this forced Columbus to leave 39 of the crew behind to form the first Spanish colony,
which was later wiped out by Indians. He later caught up with the Pinta, was attacked by hostile
Indians and set off with leaky boats to Spain.

Second expedition: 25 Sept 1493 - 17 ships 1500 men.

Third expedition: 1 Aug 1498, Columbus reached Trinidad and the shores of Venezuela - still
apparently convinced he had discovered the East, Columbus wrote that he believed the Orinoco to
be the river that flows from the Earthly Paradise.

Clinging desperately to his original theory that the islands he had discovered were part of Marco
Polo’s world, Columbus set off on a fourth voyage.

The “High Voyage” (1502-04):

The king and queen of Spain made it clear this time that Columbus was to search for gold and
silver, precious stones, spices and other riches. Columbus’ fleet set sail from Cadiz on 9 May
1502 in what was to be “Another voyage in the name of the Holy Trinity,” as he stated in a letter
to the Pope. His son Fernando, age 14, and brother Bartolomeo accompanied Columbus on this
fourth and final voyage. Because of ill health and poor eyesight, Columbus could not captain his
fleet. What began with exhilaration over the fastest crossing yet, just 20 days, ended with the loss
of the entire fleet off the coast of Jamaica.

Columbus headed for the Spanish colony of Hispaniola where he dropped anchor at Santa
Domingo on June 29. Following a hurricane, in which 24 ships were lost and over 500 people
were killed, Columbus sailed southwest, past Cuba, until he reached Central America. Skirmishes
with the Indians, intense storms, and damaged ships meant that he had to head back to Hispaniola
in December, 1502. Losing two ships, 130 men were crowded onto the remaining, barely sea-
worthy, ships. Realizing that Hispaniola was too far to reach, Columbus turned north to Jamaica
which he had discovered on his second voyage. The ships were in such bad condition that they
were beached. Columbus would remain marooned here with his men for over a year. One half of
the men mutinied when Columbus tried to instill order and discipline, and tired of dealing with
the Spaniards, the Indians decided to stop supplying food. One loyal sailor, Diego Méndez de
Salcedo, agreed to cross the open channel by canoe to reach Hispaniola. The island was over 100
miles away but in five days Méndez and one other sailor made it to Hispaniola in two canoes
paddled by natives. At the end of July the rescue ship arrived, and on August 13 the shipwrecked
sailors arrived in Santo Domingo. Not feeling welcome in the city, on 12 Sept 1504, Columbus
took his last voyage across the ocean, this time as a passenger. On November 7, 1504 he, his son,
and his brother arrived in Spain.

The Journal as Travel Writing:

Travel Writing, History and Literature

It has been said that Columbus's journals tell us more about the European imagination than they
do about the actual events of history. In other words, these 'historical records' are not accurate
records of events, but posthumous reworkings of events into a momentous narrative, a mythology
about the origins of America.

In the writings of Columbus, and later, Amerigo Vespucci and Sir Walter Ralegh, certain literary
techniques are at work, and literary references can be detected, which connect these writings to a
literary tradition. It is the careful analysis of such writings that reveals not just what happened,
but how the imagination of a whole readership operated, and how that imagination might be fed
and manipulated.

Authorship and authenticity 

The letters and journal of Columbus are highly dubious documents. The journal was not released
by the Spanish until the 19th century as they considered it contained strategic information
valuable to Spain. Authorship of the journal is clearly, like Polo's Travels, a collaborative effort,
and we can assume that what we read today in a modern English translation has been much
altered since the words actually written and spoken in 1492.

If we look closely at the 'Journal' we find that there are at least two 'voices' - that of an
unidentified narrator/historian, who seems to be interpreting the actual ship's log; and that of the
Admiral, Columbus himself, narrating events in the first person.

The Journal Form

The journal as a form purports to be a much more ‘objective’ report of a journey, than the prose
writings of Polo and Mandeville. The day-by-day form seems to offer the direct witnessing of
events as they happen. The sea log is intended as a scientific document supplementing maps and

The journal of Columbus offers a fairly matter of fact day-to-day account until the momentous
discovery of land. This moment has been retrospectively built into the 'beginnings' of America - a
myth of origins. 1492 marked the beginning of the European settlement of the Americas and the
systematic annihilation of its indigenous people. It has now been appropriated as the defining
moment in the creation of America (note Columbus day on 8th October).

The structure and 'narration' of 'The Journal of Christopher Columbus' 

The supposedly objective day-by-day form here looks very constructed. (Note that the extract we
are using has missing days marked by asterisks - there should usually be an entry for each day). It
was common for ship's logs to be 'polished up' for publication, but this one seems to have been
greatly altered and embellished. The journal begins with a foreword by the Admiral addressed to
his sponsors the King and Queen of Spain. The foreword anticipates the voyage, but it is almost
certainly written after the voyage, and so it maintains a fiction (that the voyage is yet to come).

There are then short entries from the beginning of the voyage to first (real) sight of land. These
entries record the distance covered and the direction sailed, but even here there are discrepancies,
as the 'narrator' sometimes seems to assume the voice of the Admiral and at other times refers to
him in the third person. (see for example, 30 Sept. to 8 Oct).

When land is discovered (11 Oct) long narrative passages are introduced 'in the words of the
Admiral' himself. The journal then opens out into what we can describe as 'discovery narrative' or
'first encounter narrative'. Such narratives were to become extremely popular among European
audiences who were captivated by stories of island paradises, exotic fruits and birds, naked or
near naked Indians, and thrilled by tales of cannibals.

Discovery Narratives
In common with all 'first encounter' or discovery narratives, the encounter or discovery is all one-
way - i.e. it is entirely as seen by the Europeans. There is little evidence that the Europeans
concerned themselves with what the Indians might want or expect from the encounter. The
Indians were regarded as curiosities first and then as providers of food, gold and labour.

For Columbus, the 'discovery' narrative is complicated by the fact that he desperately wants to 're-
discover' Cathay and meet the Great Khan. The justification for the voyage was to return with
riches from the East. His 'bag' of a few Indians, and a little gold and cotton from America must
have been a great disappointment.

Although the journal is important as the first story of European beginnings in America, for
Columbus this is not America, it is the Indies (Spain continued to call the ‘New World’ the West
Indies until the 18th century). His eyes see America, but his mind sees the ‘East’ of Mandeville
and Polo.

The Dumb-Show and the Silent 'Other' 

We can see Columbus’s disappointment at seeing the tiny ‘primitive’ villages being slowly
displaced by an increasingly delusory idea of ‘lost cities’ as he frantically searches for gold mines
and evidence of the Great Khan’s empire. The place of the natives in all of this is increasingly
secondary as the greed of the Europeans reduces them firstly to the insignificant ‘helpers’ of the
heroic Columbus - their sole function being to point towards the place the gold comes from (or to
send the foreigners off on a wild goose chase just to get them out of their village), secondly they
become childlike objects of interest (sexual?), and are translated into the ‘noble savage’, or the
inhabitants of an Earthly Paradise. But at the same time, the presence of the ‘grotesque’ and
‘monstrous’ East as described by Mandeville becomes evident, as stories of natives that eat the
flesh of other men begin to circulate and the cannibal is located here.

So, this well-documented ‘first encounter’ of Europeans and native Indians, which has become
the narrative of ‘discovery’, finds the European imagination assimilating what they see of native
people with expectations largely informed by myth and fantasy (the grotesque and monstrous
natives of Greek mythology via Mandeville).

BUT unlike Mandeville’s narrative, there is no dialogue with the natives, and certainly no attempt
to understand the natives ‘on their own terms’. Clearly the natives, without any voice (there can
be no dialogue as none of the Europeans can speak their language) are continually shaped by the
Europeans. From potential helpers, pointing the way to an Exotic East, full of promised gold and
riches, they become the irritating savages hiding their gold from the Europeans. From helpers to
hinderers from noble savages to cannibals, the Indians are shaped according to the desires and
aspirations of the Europeans.

Columbus as the Hero of his own Fable
We can see some influence from Polo and Mandeville and their literary heritage in Columbus's
story of discovery. Columbus believes he has entered the Eastern extremities of the Indies
described by Mandeville, and this is a veil obscuring the evidence of his eyes. Literary heritage
also alters the telling of the story. The journal is not an objective account at all, but the story of a
hero, Columbus - a latter-day Odysseus, Jason or Sinbad. The author is the hero of his own fable
and what we read is often the subjective account of Columbus, telling us something about his
state of mind as well as what he might have actually seen. What is ‘discovered’ is shaped by
Columbus’s imagination, and as we have already seen, this is an imagination capable of
considerable self-deception (the size of the earth, also not believing the actual readings of his
actual position and sailing off in the opposite direction on a whim). And it is an imagination very
much influenced by literature, for a medieval explorer, this is perhaps not so surprising.

Columbus in Paradise 

It seems that Columbus's voyage becomes wrapped up with his destiny. There is self-
representation in the Journal, and we find out about the man directly and indirectly through his
writing (assuming it is his writing). We sense that Columbus is emotionally involved in the
journey and the discovery of Paradise, as seen in his descriptions of landscapes. In the writings of
Mandeville and Polo, descriptions of landscape rarely suggest aesthetic response to the beauty of
the landscape, but Columbus describes an Arcadian Paradise (an idyllic rural utopia from the
place and poetry of Classical Greece, but a strong theme in late 15th and 16th century European
literature). The literary referents as well as mention of the countryside of Spain shift the imagery
to Europe and suggest an aesthetic appropriation of the New World. This shift in register is
sometimes read as a kind of romanticism in which Columbus’s own state of mind, (the euphoria
of arrival) is projected onto the natural scenery.

Apart from actually being the first European to sail directly from the European mainland to the
Americas and record the voyage (and repeat it), Columbus has little to do with the 'reality' that the
New World was to become. It was another explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who can be said to have
discovered America as an actuality. It was his name (feminised) - Amerigo/America - that was
chosen by European geographers for the New World (although the Spanish continued to refer to
the West Indies, a name now reserved for the islands that were indeed the first to be explored by
Columbus and his contemporaries). Vespucci re-captured the imagination in his writings by
describing the New World as a new beginning, a ‘real’ and visitable Earthly Paradise, not the
mythical paradise of the East described by Mandeville (although of course in a sense it is the
same idea, re-mythologised and re-located).

New World Reality
In this New World of Vespucci’s, the natives are problematic. The New World seems to be a
place for new beginnings almost entirely of a monetary nature, backed by official religion. It is
not in the first instance a place for new beginnings of a moral or humanist nature (although this
would come in time as various persecuted religious groups and utopians would try to establish
communities in America). Mandeville’s veiled critique of the West through his representations of
the East as a plural and religiously tolerant realm, and his delight in the variety and difference
within the human race, entirely devoid of racism and prejudice is blown away in the European,
militaristic Christian grab for land. Almost immediately the natives of the West Indies and South
America, who, for Columbus were the same natives Mandeville describes so affectionately, were
represented as savage cannibals and subject to systematic genocide.

In the New World, the European imagination is freed to wander at will, redefining nature and
people in terms of their use-value first, and their monetary value second. Travel writing of the
time is generally imperialist in that it erases existing native places, projects new geographies on
them, and incorporates them into European-centred history and systems of knowledge. In the
Americas, more so than in other colonies, the imperial project is followed up by the brutal reality
of imperial genocide. So the 'fabulous reality' of diverse peoples reported by Mandeville is
incorporated into this imperialist singularity.

Unlike medieval pilgrims, merchants and missionaries, Columbus took heavily armed soldiers on
his voyages. His main intent might have been the challenge of crossing the ocean, and proving his
theory that China could be reached by a Western route (a theory which was rather flawed) - he
may have been primarily an ambitious and professional sailor, but he also acted for and on behalf
of the Spanish King and Queen who sponsored him, and as such, he worked to their orders and
design, which were expansionist and imperialist. Columbus acts for and helps realise the
imperialist ambitions of Spain, and his main concern after finding land is to assess the
possibilities for exploiting it and imposing colonial power over the native population. This
interpretation is supported by the letters and journals, although we have to recognize that these
may not be altogether authentic or reliable (but then what is?). 

The Texts:

The Letter to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain (c. 1494)

The letter shows Columbus's intent to claim the island of 'Espanola' (Hispaniola, Cuba) as a
Spanish colony. He outlines how the colony might be administered and how arrangements should
be made for exploitation of the island, specifically the handling of gold. Convinced he has
reached China, he mentions travelling on to 'Guisay' (Kinsai - Hang Chau), and sending letters to
the 'Great Can'.
The Journal

Note the form of this travel writing - the ship's log, a daily account of events which suggests
accurate observation and recording of events, as they occur. Actually these logs were always
rewritten afterwards to reflect what happened (or what the captain wanted us to think happened)
rather then events as they unfolded.

Columbus uses scientific observation and reads and interprets nature as it presents itself (e.g. 16-
17 Sep), but in 'reading' the signs of land, the captain is perhaps turning empirical evidence into
what he wishes to see. In fact, when land is first ‘sighted’, the ships are still two weeks away from

Some examples to consider in class:

1. Columbus as the 'hero' of the journey (23 Sept). Columbus sees himself as the biblical
character Moses, leading Europeans to a new promised land. Note the sinister undertones:
‘naked’ as subjugation (sexual and imperial?). The representation of the natives shows an intent
to dominate them. Natives are firstly naked and childlike, lacking authority and (patriarchal)
command. But later they are represented as savages and cannibals, so 'justifying' the genocide
that is to come when they refuse to cooperate with the colonialist invaders.

2. Possession (11 Oct) - Columbus renames local places, so incorporating them into European
space and time. Local places, culture and history are swept aside as European history appropriates

3. Self-delusion (9 Sept) - Columbus deliberately falsifies scientific measurements.

4. Aesthetics and profit (19 Oct) - beauty in nature, but also in exploitation

5. To find Cathay (China) (21 Oct) - Columbus still expects to find the world of the Great Khan
that he has read about in Polo and Mandeville.

Further Reading:
For the full texts of the letters and journals check the internet – these are widely available.
See also Mary B Campbell, The Witness and the Other World.

Bartolome de Las Casas, The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account

Published in Spain in 1552, Las Casas's account of the Spanish mistreatment of American Indians
provides evidence of the brutal facts of colonization, and this makes a sobering postscript to
Columbus's triumphalist and imperialist accounts of discovery.

Las Casas was born in 1484. His father accompanied Columbus on his second voyage in 1493,
and in 1502 he went to the West Indies himself where he was initially involved in the Spanish
conquests there. But by 1514, he had become so disillusioned with colonialism and so concerned
for the well-being of the native population that he began to preach against slavery, and released
those slaves formerly given to him. By questioning Christian morality in the Spanish colonies, he
introduces a counter discourse against imperialism, and in 1520 he explained his views to Charles
I of Spain. Although he persuaded the king that mistreatment of the native population was not
ultimately in the interests of Spain, and that the devastation of the Indies was lessening humanity
rather than promoting Christian and humane values, the process of devastation continued.
Publication of The Devastation of the Indies caused controversy in Spain. Its accounts of
genocide portray an evil empire intent on greed, masked by the signs of Christian faith, but
without the fundamental principles of Christianity. This is a criticism that echoes Mandeville.

According to Las Casas, some fifteen million of the native population of South America and the
West Indies were killed by the Spaniards in the forty nine years following Columbus's voyage.
Note the language used by Las Casas - the natives are like sheep, humble, patient, most devoid of
wickedness and have no desire to possess worldly goods - they are indeed, perfect candidates for
conversion to the Christian faith, Las Casas suggests. The Spaniards, on the other hand, behave
like "ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions ... killing, terrorizing, afflicting and destroying
native peoples" (29). And the reason for this behaviour among the Spanish Christians? - greed for
gold. For this, the Spanish slaughtered and enslaved the native peoples.

James Cook (1728 - 1779) - The Journals of Captain Cook (extract from the 2nd voyage 1772-
                       James Cook led three famous expeditions to the Pacific Ocean: the first
                       from 1768 to 1771 (around the world, Tahiti, New Zealand and Botany
                       Bay and up the Eastern Australian coast), the second from 1772 to
                       1775 and the third from 1776 to his death in Hawaii in 1779. These
                       three voyages capped centuries of European exploration in the Pacific.
                       Since Magellan's voyage round South America to the Phillipines
                       (1519-21), the Great South Land (Terra Australis Incognita) was the
                       focus of attention. The continent was originally thought to extend from
                       South Africa to South America. The Dutch were probably the first to
                       reach Australia in the early 17th century. They reached Tasmania and
                       the south island of New Zealand.

Cook is perhaps remembered most for his 'discovery' of New Zealand and his exploration of the
East Coast of Australia, which led to the founding of a British settlement at Botany Bay. But his
claim to fame lies not so much in his 'discoveries' as in his brilliant scientific mapping of the
South Seas. His sponsors were not kings and queens, or even merchants, eager for gold, but rather
the Royal Society and the Admiralty, who issued Cook with instructions to make astronomical
measurements in Tahiti and to find, if it existed, the Great Southern Continent. Cook was a
thoroughly 'modern' explorer - rational, scientific and (on the surface at least) humanist.

However, the history of modernity is not only one of science and enlightenment, it is also one of
colonisation and imperialism, and looking back at Cook's writing through the glass of
postcolonial criticism we are bound to see imperialist intent in Cook's seemingly objective and
scientific reports. Or are we?

Cook was killed by natives on his return to Hawaii on his third voyage. On his first voyage, he
was treated as a God, arriving at a time and in a manner which appeared to fit the predictions of
the island's priests who proclaimed him the deity 'Lono' they had been expecting. Although Cook
was a celebrated figure at home and in the South Seas, he appears from his journals to be a rather
serious, detached and down-to-earth character. Historians have usually regarded him as a
humanist and a tolerant man who took good care of his men and treated the natives fairly. But as
with Columbus, when characters are involved in such epic voyages, which seem to stand for so
much more than the journey itself, the main character is to some extent shaped by the ensuing
legend. There is some evidence to suggest that the story of Captain James Cook is not quite as
straightforward as the historical caricature usually presented.

The Journals

Cook wrote up his journals for the first two voyages in England in the year or so between
voyages, which also gave him opportunity to extend his family before setting off again. The
journals for the first and second voyages were written up by Cook himself in England, taking
advice from his editors. But to Cook’s chagrin, other journals and part-fictionalised accounts of
the voyages were written up and published by other officers on the voyages and by professional
authors. These proved highly popular, but Cook was incensed by their inaccuracies.

But even Cook’s journals, which we are examining here, were written after the event, as well as
the original manuscripts, all show much editing, erasing and rewriting. For the journal of the first
voyage, Cook appears to have borrowed from the log of Joseph Banks, a scientist on the voyage,
whose own account was also published (and rather better received by the public). In the journals
of the first two voyages, Cook appears to have taken care to preserve the day-to-day accuracy of
his log books from which they derive. On the third voyage on which he was killed, the log breaks
off abruptly on 17th January 1779 where Cook begins to describe the ceremony during, or after
which, he was probably killed. The journal of this third voyage is more novelistic in form,
describing episodes stretching across several days at a time. It appears that Cook was attempting
to turn this voyage into a book.

But there is a sense in which Cook's accounts are frustratingly incomplete. His contact with the
native people is so often in passing. Time and again, the natives disappear into the interior,
perhaps to appear later in another place (e.g. p. 262). For Cook, the contact zone is a narrow strip
at the foreshore where the Europeans come to repair and supply their ships and to take away
scientific samples (pp. 262-3). Even when Cook does have the natives in his company, he seems
rather incurious about their lives, politics and customs, and rarely refers to them by name.

He discusses the natives 'on reflection' rather than in direct conversation (pp. 274-5), as though he
is for some reason holding off direct contact with them. Perhaps this is in part due to Cook's
nature, as a rather serious, detached, professional seaman. Perhaps it is partly due to the fact that
he was censoring what he wrote, for his audience, firstly, the Admiralty, and then the members of
the Royal Society, and the public, among whom there was a growing market for stories of all
kinds about the South Seas. It appears that Cook did not wish to sensationalise his accounts, and
may have deliberately under-reported what really went on between himself, his men and the
native people. It appears he wanted to give the impression of being a highly moral, correct and
disciplined officer, as well as countering the fanciful narratives of the South Seas with the facts.

Further Reading:

'The Journals of Captain James Cook' - three (rather old editions in the library). We are using the
modern Penguin Edition. 

For background on the representation of the South Seas in travel writing and literature, see:

Neil Rennie, Far-fetched facts : the literature of travel and the idea of the South, (1995) in HKU
Bernard Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific (1985)
Barbara Stafford, Voyage into Substance.
Nicholas Thomas, The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook (2003)

Points for discussion in class:

1. Cook has been described as a thoroughly modern explorer, 'a detached observer and objective
recorder for whom science holds the key to the mysteries of the world'. How effective is this form
of describing the world –what does leave out?

2. Columbus has been described as the last medieval traveller, 'vague, romantic, superstitious and
informed by ancient learning rather than modern rationalism'. Consider Columbus’s use of texts
to confirm the reality he experiences.

3. Take one example of first encounter (meeting the natives for the first time) from Cook and one
from Columbus. What kind of image of the ‘other’ is formed in their descriptions, and in what
ways do these differ?
Paul Smethurst (11/9/2012)
EXTRAS [Not included in the lectures]

Duarte Barbosa A Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar
While the focus of attention for European explorers and colonists in the 16th century may have
switched to the New World of the (West) Indies and America, the Portuguese continued to
colonise enclaves all along the sea routes between Europe and the Far East. Their major colonies
were set up for the purposes of trade in East Africa, Malabar (South East India) and Malacca
(Southern tip of Malaysia). For much of the 16th century, the Portuguese controlled access to the
East by sea, by holding Malabar and Malacca. By 1600, the Dutch and British had discovered the
Portuguese routes to the East and began to bypass Malabar and started to set up their own
colonies in the East Indies.

Duarte Barbosa was a cousin of the explorer Magellan. He sailed to South East Asia with the
Portuguese in the early sixteenth century, spending sixteen years in the region and returning to
Portugal in 1517. He was sometimes critical of the tactics and the zeal with which the Portuguese
established trading posts and missions, but he was never as forthright as Las Casas in condemning
colonialism and the behaviour of his compatriots. Of course, the situation is very different in
Asia, as the colonialists were, initially, concerned with trading with the peoples of Asia, rather
than establishing extensive colonies there. Most of the Portuguese possessions were enclaves,
settled around strategic port locations.

Barbosa produced an account of his experiences on the sea voyages from Portugal to the Far East
and his life in Malacca and Malabar. This makes interesting comparison with the medieval
accounts of Polo and Mandeville. We can find a number of similarities in style and observation in
their narratives:

- concern for language and religion 
- reference to "islands" which are not islands in the modern
- emphasis on products and trade 
- lack of personal details and subjective/sentimental

But Barbosa's account is more modern in that it is presented as first-hand experience, plainly told.
For example, the details of Chinese eating habits and dress, which he presumably studied first-
hand in places like Malacca where the Chinese and Formosans (Taiwanese) came to trade. The
common misunderstanding of how porcelain is made shows how well-kept was the secret of this
process. It would be some time yet before the Europeans were able to copy the fine porcelain
products of China. The lack of information about China contrasts with considerable detail on
Africa and the Middle East and Malabar, and this is evidence of just how closed China was at this
time to Westerners. Since the land routes were no longer open to Westerners, cultural exchange
was limited to contact in sea ports such as Malacca, and later Canton. And such exchange does
seem to be limited to the necessities of trade only.
Walter Ralegh, The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana (1596)
English travellers of the 16th century began to play an important part in establishing England as
an imperial power. Ralegh's description here of Guiana in South America is a piece of
propaganda for English colonialism. America did not immediately offer rich pickings for settlers
from Europe, and travellers were at pains to paint a positive picture of their discoveries, in part
not to disappoint their patrons.

This is an account of England's increasing confidence as a naval power. Ralegh describes how he
came to Guiana via Trinidad, having taken and burnt the Spanish capital San Jose and taken the
governor, Antonio Berreo captive. One objective of Ralegh's journey was to seek the legendary
city of gold, El Dorado, but his writing also shows an ambition to extend the empire of
Elizabethan England for glory itself as much as for material gain.

The travel literature of the 16th century English travellers such as Ralegh also played a major part
in the history of English literature, providing rich material and feeding the imagination of many
writers, including Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare. The depiction of the New World
often fell back on common motifs from earlier writings, such as Biblical, Classical and medieval
images of Paradise, and the idea of the journey as a heroic quest. As we have seen, Columbus cast
himself in the role of hero, and Ralegh takes a similar line, although not quite regarding himself
as the exceptional being Columbus does.

Ralegh is at pains to engage the reader, not just impress him/her with the facts. In this sense, he
does not stand apart, but carries the reader along with him, as 
did Polo/Rustichello. Ralegh is also
not quite so burdened with preconceptions as Columbus had been. Columbus does not discover
the New World, 
but rather the Paradise he was expecting in the Far East - it is all familiar to him
as Paradise, translated into familiar European and Classical terms where 
possible. Columbus
offers a false narrative of encounter which has the quality of a dream.

But of course Ralegh is not having to describe Guiana for the first time. El Dorado existed in the
minds of the Spanish explorers before he arrived, and his task is to witness the reality of the place
and the feasibility of colonising it. The reference to Guiana as a "Countrey that hath yet her
Maydenhead" (196) is usually regarded as an incite to the 'manly' English to take it - i.e. a
challenge to the manhood of Englishmen.

In speaking of the native people, a major contrast can be seen with Columbus's descriptions of
dumb, meek, undifferentiated and childlike Indians. Ralegh 
descibes the politics, customs and
appearance of different tribes, suggesting that far more dialogue took place, and a greater degree
of communication was now possible. (pp. 158-9).

In describing the beauty of the Indies, Ralegh still refers to the stock motifs of Paradise from
ealrier literatures, here with an especially English flavour (the green parklands and deer drinking
at the water's edge – p.163). But here they have more credence because they are interleaved with
realistic accounts of weary and hazardous journeying through less attractive prospects. There is
lack in the landscape as well as plenty, giving a more rounded and more realistic picture. (p.161)

Paul Smethurst 16.9.2009

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