In today's world of global markets, global politics, and global cultures, it is hard to imagine that as recently as the eighteenth century large portions of the Earth were still unknown to European explorers. James Cook, one of the last to organize expeditions of discovery, embarked on three separate voyages between 1769 and 1780, charged with the dual missions of annexing new lands for the British Empire and furthering science.
In just over ten years, Cook accumulated an impressive list of firsts: the circumnavigation of New Zealand; the mapping of the eastern coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales; the crossing of the Antarctic Circle; the discovery of Hawaii; and the mapping of North America from Oregon to Alaska. Early editions of the officially published accounts of each of Cook's expeditions are preserved in the library. These accounts of Cook's expeditions are written in a diary format, with individual entries organized by date.
The text is particularly personal and compelling in its narrative, detailing daily tribulations, the challenges of long periods at sea, and the exhilaration of making landfall. Complementing the text are detailed maps and charts and many engraved illustrations depicting indigenous peoples, cultural implements, and flora and fauna.
Many of the initial cultural interactions between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Pacific, for better and for worse, are documented in these accounts of Cook's voyages, which, independent of the explorer's legacy, remain historically significant. Cook's reports contributed much to the evolution of eighteenth-century thinking about the natural world, ethnography, geography, cartography, and many other disciplines. They hold an important place in the larger historical record of eighteenth-century rationalism and scientific endeavors in the Enlightenment.