Longitude and Empire
256 pages, 6 x 9
24 b&w photographs, 6 maps
Release Date:01 Jun 2006
Release Date:24 May 2005
Release Date:01 Oct 2007

Longitude and Empire

How Captain Cook's Voyages Changed the World

UBC Press

Before Captain Cook’s three voyages, to Europeans the globe was uncertain and dangerous; after, it was comprehensible and ordered. Written as a conceptual field guide to the voyages, Longitude and Empire offers a significant rereading of both the expeditions and modern political philosophy. More than any other work, printed accounts of the voyages marked the shift from early modern to modern ways of looking at the world. The globe was no longer divided between Europeans and savages but populated instead by an almost overwhelming variety of national identities.

Cook’s voyages took the fragmented and obscure global descriptions available at the time and consolidated them into a single, comprehensive textual vision. Locations became fixed on the map and the people, animals, plants, and artifacts associated with them were identified, collected, understood, and assimilated into a world order. This fascinating account offers a new understanding of Captain Cook’s voyages and how they affected the European world view.


  • 2006, Shortlisted - Harold Adams Innis Prize, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Science
But it is a mark of the achievement of this wide-ranging book that it prompts such fundamental questions and asks us to look again not just at Cook and his voyages, but also at the character of the culture which produced the grid-like view of the world of which Cook, the cartographer par excellence, was the great exponent. John Gascoigne, Journal of Pacific History, Fall 2005
Richardson gives a clear and readable narrative about the importance of the concept of space and its relationship to people in Cook’s narratives and the influence this concept had on British perceptions of the world. The relationship between theory-driven and empirically-motivated political thought in the aftermath of Cook’s voyages is particularly clear and interesting. Margaret Small, Journal for Maritime Research
Employing only minimal jargon and offering clear ... explanations, Richardson analyses the text of Cook’s Voyages and interprets their impact upon the European mind and political order in a manner that might profitably be emulated by cultural theorists and literary deconstructionists ... Anthropologists such as Anne Salmond and Greg Dening have provided studies of early contacts between Pacific Natives and European largely from the former’s point of view. Richardson’s thought-provoking study reverses the lens to show the impact upon European sensibilities and growing conception of the world as a unified and precisely definable whole. Merrill Distad, University of Alberta, Bulletin of Pacific Affairs, no. 14
A key contribution of this book is a proper examination of the ways in which Cook’s geographical thinking came to shape how we think historically and ethnographically about the whole world. Katrina Schlunke, University of Techonology Sydney, Australian Historical Studies, No. 128
Longitude and Empire is cogently and quite brilliantly organized. In summarizing how Cook organized his narratives, Brian Richardson shows how our world view has been shaped by Cook’s – a fascinating and well-illustrated argument. Cook and his narratives are the template for most if not all who followed, and as such, this critical assessment of Cook and the literature has importance beyond the man and his own explorations – this is an essential book for anyone interested in the general subject of Enlightenment exploration – and perhaps for all exploration that follows. James Delgado, Director, Vancouver Maritime Museum
Brian W. Richardson is a librarian at Windward Community College in Hawaii and is editing a collection of Hawaiian myths and legends.




Introductions / The Story / The Book / The Author

1. Points / Rules of Exploration / Points along a Coast / The Coordinate System / Verification of Details / The Possibilities of Location

2. Shapes / Grand Divisions / Extreme Places / The Oceanic Plane / Cook’s Turn to Islands / Landscapes and Maps / The Move to Interiors

3. Nations / The Orient, the Savage, and Europe  The Primacy of Place / Studying Nations / Classifying Nations / Explaining Nations / The Savage, the Noble Savage, and the Nation

4. States / Hobbes / Locke / Rousseau / The Scottish Enlightenment / The Native State in Cook’s Voyages / Kant Finding and Creating the Territorial Nation-State

5. Collections / The Cabinets of Curiosities / Collecting Nations / The Practices of the Collection / Boredom and the Collection / The Dangers of Relativism / The Persistence of Extreme Otherness / The Transcendence of the Collector

6. Empires / Cook and Empire / Empire As Collection / Empire As Exchange / Empire As Cultivation / Empire As Panopticon

Conclusions; Notes; Bibliography; Index

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