Cover: Discovering Nothing: In Pursuit of an Elusive Northwest Passage, by David L. Nicandri. Sketch: two ships, one sinking, and a canoe in the foreground. Overlaid upon the sketch is a compass dial rotated to point northwest.
322 pages, 6 x 9
16 b&w photos, 6 maps
Release Date:01 Nov 2024
Release Date:01 Jun 2024

Discovering Nothing

In Pursuit of an Elusive Northwest Passage

UBC Press

The many attempts by navigators to find a Northwest Passage via its Pacific portal all ended in failure; however, their discoveries spurred expansionist developments that would change North America forever. In Discovering Nothing David L. Nicandri maps a cast of geographic visionaries and practical explorers as they promoted or sought a workable commercial route linking the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. The discovery of the legendary northern passage proved elusive, but the equivalent land bridges that were built changed the futures of Canada and the United States. Drawing from close readings of explorers’ personal journals, Nicandri provides readers with a detailed, thoroughly researched work documenting the many players and failed enterprises at the core of this centuries-spanning cartographic undertaking, as well the technological innovations that followed: chiefly, the development of both the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Northern Pacific Railroad. Beginning in the eighteenth century with the final voyage of Captain James Cook and looking through to today and the impact of global climate change on Arctic passages, Nicandri provides a comprehensive examination of the key nautical and overland expeditions – including their many successes and failures – that the quest entailed.

Linking together the expeditions of explorers such as John Ledyard, Alexander Mackenzie, George Vancouver, Lewis and Clark, Isaac Stevens, and Sandford Fleming, among others, Discovering Nothing is an essential account for both scholars and readers with a passion for the history of North American exploration in the late Enlightenment and Romantic eras – an account that draws these disparate enterprises into a single comprehensive and historically crucial narrative.

David Nicandri is the leading voice on Captain Cook. In Discovering Nothing, the Northwest Passage finally has an interpretation that connects waterborne, overland, and over-the-ice expeditions into a multi-layered tale of advances and retreats; dreams and disappointments; technologies that worked or failed ... all seen by Nicandri as part of an international diplomatic game to be first to find the passage – but the last to reveal it to other nations. William R. Swagerty, History, University of the Pacific

David Nicandri was executive director of the Washington State Historical Society from 1987 to 2011 and was editor of the society’s journal, Columbia Magazine. He received the Charles Gates Award for the best article in Pacific Northwest Quarterly and the Robert Gray Medal of the Washington State Historical Society. David was awarded honorary doctorates from Gonzaga University, the University of Puget Sound, and the University of Idaho, and was recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus by SUNY at Plattsburgh. He also served on the board of trustees of Evergreen State College. David is the author of numerous books, including Captain Cook Rediscovered: Voyaging to the Icy Latitudes.

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