Encyclopedia of Exploration 1: Reviews

Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 2003
Review by Professor Glyndwr Williams
Article reproduced here with their kind permission

At a time when encyclopedias, bibliographies and other reference books are invariably the work of teams of scholars, Raymond Howgego’s Encyclopedia of Exploration is a remarkable single-handed effort. As its sub-title suggests, it is both an encyclopedia and a bibliography, and in some articles the section on sources equals in length the descriptive entry. Of the 2.327 main articles, most are bibliographical, although some deal with events, organisations and places – for example, the Conquest of Mexico, East India Companies, Franciscan Missionaries, Taiwan. The biographical articles are mostly of European explorers, some familiar, many not, but there is a good representation of names from outside Europe, especially from China and the Arab world. So those intrigued by recent claims about the supposedly worldwide discoveries of Chinese expeditions in 1420s will find a more realistic summary of Chinese maritime exploration in the early fifteenth century under the entry for Zheng He. The vast number of biographical entries enables the encyclopedia to include many relatively minor figures whose details are difficult to find without consulting a large number of reference works, some of them out-of-date and unreliable. In similar fashion, major expeditions covered here involve more than simply and entry on the ‘lead’ explorer. The article on James Cook has cross-references to entries on no fewer than 15 of the officers, crew members and supernumeraries who sailed with him. The excellent article on the voyage of Alejandro Malaspina (1789-94) I made even more useful by entries on eight of his officers and supernumeraries end, this information on less well-known members of exploring expeditions may be one of the most valuable features of the work.
The longer articles and bibliographies are split chronologically. That on Francis Drake, for example, is divided into five sections dealing with his early years in West African and Caribbean waters, raids in the Caribbean and across and across the Panama Isthmus, the circumnavigation of 1577-80, the massive expedition to the Caribbean in 1585-6, and his final voyage of 1585-6. As can be seen from this, Howgego’s entries aim to give a rounded account of the careers of men who may –as in Drake’s case -only a limited amount of time engaged in exploration. In other ways, exploration is conceived in rather narrow, almost old-fashioned, terms, perhaps an inevitable consequence of the sheer scale of the work. So the entry on James Cook gives details of his three Pacific voyages: courses sailed, dates of sightings of land, and so on. There is however, little effort to assess Cook’s explorations in total, and hardly a reference to the ethnographic significance of his voyages. Amid all the listing of the islands, capes and bays seen by Cook on his first voyage there is no reference to his six-week stay at the Endeavour River, which afforded the longest contact yet by Europeans with Australian Aborigines. Surprisingly, there is no separate article on Johann Reinhold Forster, the naturalist and philosopher who sailed with Cook on his second voyage, and whose observations on the indigenous societies encountered were a major contribution to Europe’s knowledge of Polynesia. Although information about him is given in the article on his son, George, who also sailed on the voyage, there is no indication of the importance of the two books that father and son wrote on return from the voyage. And the sentences on Cook’s death at Kealakekua Bay on his third voyage –’relationships with the natives deteriorated …a scuffle ensued.. Cook received a blow from behind’ contain no hint of the debate among scholars as to whether an assumption by Hawaiians that Cook was the god Lono played a part in his death. In fairness to the author who would no doubt reply that he cannot mention everything, the biographical lists accompanying these articles contain most of the significant titles both for the writings of the Forsters and for the Lono controversy. In general the bibliographies are impressively up-to-date, even to the inclusion of a work published in 2002. The arrangement of the bibliographies, containing almost 20,000 items is clear and sensible: first the primary sources, helpfully listed in order of perceived importance; and then the secondary works, organised alphabetically by author.
By and large, and perhaps wisely, Howgego does not often take sides in the many disputes that mark his subject area. He is usually content to indicate where differences exist, and to leave it at that. So, ‘there are many conflicting theories and opinions about what actually happened during the voyage’ of John Cabot in1479, while as far as Sebastian Cabot’s voyage of 1508-09 is concerned, ‘the precise route is clouded by conflicting accounts’. He seems reluctant to name those involved in such controversies: it is a question of ‘some scholars’ following one line, and ‘others’ a different one, with the reader being left to guess which authors in the bibliography hold which opinions. At times this minimalist approach is taken to extremes. The entry on the voyage of Leif Eriksson from Greenland to North America in 1001 gives no indication of the contentious nature of the Vinland issue, and unwary readers might be puzzled by the length of its bibliography, containing items with such unexplained titles as ‘The strange case of the Vinland map’. Similarly, the bibliography attached to Drake’s voyage round the world in 1577-80 include several books and articles on the vexed question (at least for Californians) of the identity of Drake’s landing place, but the text simply notes that Drake ‘ran south to Drake Bay (in 38ºN) where he made friendly contact with the Indians and envisaged a future British settlement there to be called New Albion’. On the other hand, the bibliography contains details of Samuel Bawlf’s recent and controversial work on Drake’s voyage along the northwest coast of America, with a brief but useful note that Bawlf ‘contends that Drake secretly explored much further than is generally imagined.
Who to include and not among the biographical entries is a matter of authorial judgement. Here an understandable decision has been taken to omit most of those who may be termed associate members of the explorers’ club – sponsors and backers, geographers and cartographers. So there are no entries on Michael Lok and Arthur Dobbs, Mercator and Ortelius, Guillaume Delisle and Philipe Buache. Exceptions seem to be made for those who combined activity behind the scenes with voyaging; presumably this accounts for the inclusion of the eighteenth hydrographers D’Apres de Mannevillette and Alexander Dalrymple. More contentious perhaps, given the trends of recent scholarship, is the omission of some of the indigenous guides and companions who have as much right to be considered explorers as some who appear here with slightly dubious credentials (Anne Bonny and Edward Teach, for example). Tupaia,, the Raiatean who came on board the Endeavour on Cook’s first voyage and acted as pilot, guide and mapmaker, is perhaps the most obvious example. He both aided the course of European exploration in water familiar to him, and explored with Cook lands and people unknown to either of them. At the same time, on the other side of the world, Samuel Hearne’s overland trek from Hudson Bay to the shore of the Artic Ocean was mad possible only by the knowledge and experience of his Chipewyan companions. This is explained in the entry on Hearne, but one would have thought there is enough information about the Chipewyan ‘captain’, Mattonabee, to justify an entry under his own name. The same might be said of an earlier Chipewyan, Thanadelthur, ‘the slave woman’ of the English accounts, whose tenacity in guiding William Stuart many hundreds of miles west from York Factory, Hudson Bay, is described here, but in the context of an entry on Stuart.
The value of any reference work depends upon its accuracy, and in those sections that fall within the reviewer’s range on knowledge there are a few errors and omissions. The crew members of Commodore Anson’s squadron on his circumnavigation of 1740-44 are given as 961 on one page, but on the next we learn that 1,300 men died of illness. In fact the number setting sail with Anson was about 1,900. It is wrong to say that before sailing with Cook in 1768 Joseph Banks ‘fitted out’ the Endeavour ‘at his own expense’. An important point that is missed about the voyage of Semen Dezhnev around East Cape (Mys Dezhneva) in 1648 is that knowledge of the voyage was lost, or largely so, in the following decades; and this has a bearing on Vitas Bering’s voyages. The article on the fur trader Anthony Henday and his wanderings from Hudson Bay across the northern plains towards the Rocky Mountains in the mid-eighteenth century is inadequate, and (for once) relies on outdated sources. John Meares’s role in the Nootka Sound dispute is covered, but without mention of his controversial speculations about the geography of the northwest coast of America. Richard Pickersgill could hardly have been sent on a summer voyage to Baffin Bay in 1776 with orders to ‘keep an eye open’ for Captain Cook, since Cook’s ship did not sail from Plymouth for the Pacific in search of the western entrance of the Northwest Passage until after Pickersgill departure. The longish article on George Vancouver and his voyage of 1791-95 to the northwest coast of America explains that he was ‘to undertake a hydrographic survey of the region’. This leaves out the diplomatic negotiations he was to undertake at Nootka, and – more central to the subject-matter of this work – ignores the fact that a compelling reason for his survey was to establish in definitive fashion whether or not there was a Northwest Passage in temperate latitudes. This recital of a few major quibbles is intended less as a criticism than as a pointing out of the obvious – that in dealing with so many different persons, subjects and regions even an editor as omnivorous and conscientious as his one is bound to slip up occasionally. For users of the Encyclopedia, this problem has been taken care of by the setting up of a website which make available any corrections and additions.
It is the first fate of the generalist to be attacked by nit-picking specialist; but Raymond Howgego can be proud of the fact that he has produced a work that will be enormously valuable to specialists and non-specialists alike. His Encyclopedia of Exploration should be on the shelves of all those who are interested in the subject, a first port of call for those seeking information about individual discoverers or guidance to the mass of related scholarship. It remains to be said that Hordern House has done a magnificent job on the production side; high-quality paper, legible print, a stout binding – and all a price that by today’s standards is more than reasonable.
Queen Mary, University of London


Review by The Pacific Circle Bulletin No. 11

Summing Up: A monumental and now indispensable work. Astonishingly comprehensive and impressively authoritative.

At a time when university courses on vanished empires enjoy renewed popularity, reflections on neo-imperial expansion preoccupy the news media, and publishers pour forth a stream of popular books on exploration and discovery, how odd that we lacked a thoroughly encyclopedic treatment of a subject so central to the creation of our modern world. However, thanks to the labors of Raymond John Howgego, we lack one no longer. The fruit of a lifetime of study and travel, as well as fifteen years' work, his Encyclopedia of Exploration to 1800 is both astonishingly comprehensive and impressively authoritative.

Dwarfing other recent compilations, such as those by Delpar (1980), Bohlander (1992), Waldman and Sexler (1992), and Baker (1993), which contain a mere 250-350 entries, in this, his first volume, Howgego provides 2,327 alphabetically arranged articles, both biographical and topical, which also include multilingual bibliographies of primary and secondary sources, amounting to some 20,000 citations, and 4,000 very useful cross references.

The latter enable readers to trace connections among people, places, and themes. Major explorers who undertook "distinct and discontinuous" expeditions are accorded separate, consecutive entries - five each for Champlain, Columbus, Dampier, and Davis, four for Cook, and three for Cartier and Frobisher - an organizational device which lends greater clarity to their exploits.

While by its very nature such a work may appear Eurocentric, with a preponderance of Spanish, Portugese, Dutch, British, and French explorers, the author's scope is cosmopolitan, and includes numerous entries for Arab and Chinese voyagers and travel writers. The chronological coverage spans the Ancient and Medieval worlds - despite a frequent lack of detail - through the Renaissance and Early Modern eras. Explorers who set out prior to 1800/01, but continued into the nineteenth century (eg. Humboldt and Bonpland) are fully described. Some apocryphal travel accounts are also included, along with a separate article devoted to "Fictitious Voyages". One totally fictitious biographical entry has been constructed to test the wits of readers; the first to identify it may claim the publisher's prize of a case of champagne.

Howgego's entries often go beyond the presentation of bare facts, and include sound and most welcome interpretation. The indexes of people and of ships - approximately 7,500 entries - are comprehensive. Yet the book lacks a geographical index, despite geographical subject headings attached to each article, which would have made one easy to compile, and thus link all explorers of a given region. Nor is there an index for place-of-birth/nationality. The author's treatment of such issues as old style versus new style dating, as well as the forms of foreign names and titles is generally sound. Nonetheless, his orthographic purity is inconsistent in the transliteration of names from non-Roman scripts (Arabic and Cyrillic). Some compensation is provided by the frequent indication of variant forms, such as offering Wade-Giles and Pin Yin versions of Chinese names, and indexing Nordic names under both forenames and patronyms, though not without inconsistencies. Leif and Thorvald, sons of "Eriki Raudi" (a.k.a. "Eric the Red") appear in the introduction as "Eirikson", and in the indexes as both "Eiriksson" and "Eirikkson". Similarly, William Baffin's death is misdated, and Luke Foxe did not, as claimed, sail on John Knight's 1606 voyage. But it is churlish to cavil over mere blemishes; whenever otherwise put to the test, the work exhibited an all-but-unshakeable accuracy of detail, as well as a refreshing dearth of typos.

A handsome, even sumptuously printed and bound, quarto-size volume, the layout and typography are clean and reader-friendly. Despite its steep price, it represents excellent value for the money. All of us who have dreamed of finding, or even of creating, the ultimate reference book in the field of exploration, should find Howgego's monumental and now indispensable work as close to ideal as we are ever likely to encounter, let alone produce. Now we eagerly await the publication of his promised second volume, covering 1800-1850.

Merrill Distad, University of Alberta


Review by Choice Magazine USA

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All collections.

No subject encyclopedia on the history of discovery and exploration is comparable to this work. With 2,327 entries and nearly 20,000 bibliographic citations, it is a tour de force of descriptive, biographic, and bibliographic documentation. Howgego thoroughly documents both well-known and less familiar explorers. Entries are arranged alphabetically, primarily by explorer name, and articles and bibliographies on thematic issues are scattered throughout the work; for example, the article "Haiti, the French in St-Domingue" follows "Hagenaer, Hendrick".

Occasionally, bibliographies follow prominent explorers of a region; for example, the entry "Supplementary Bibliography of French Louisiana" follows the entry for "Le Moyne D'Iberville, Pierre". Although the work has indexes of persons and ships and each entry has dates and place names, there are no good chronological or geographical access points. A table of contents listing each of the separate thematic articles and bibliographies would be useful. Handsomely bound with three bookmark ribbons, the book's physical appearance is consistent with its rich content. For novices and advanced researchers alike.

S.R. McEathron, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


International Journal of Maritime History 2003
Article reproduced here with their kind permission

By Felipe Fernández-Armesto

Writers on exploration need explorers’ courage: the subject is ill-charted, shark-infested, storm-racked and strewn with rocks. It is hard even to say what exploration means. It sounds purposeful, yet so much of it happens by accident or in error. It sounds innovative, yet few documented discoveries were unpreceded by unsung adventurers. It excites enmities, partly because western explorers have traditionally displaced the indigenous pathfinders whom they followed and partly because the historiography has reflected disputes over priority, which formerly determined the outcome of rival imperial claims. Although, strictly defined, exploration means route-finding, it is used in an extended sense to mean "scientific exploration." This can cover almost everything, from the gleanings of curiosity-cabinets, zoos and gardens of acclimatisation, to ethnographic fieldwork, geological researches, fossil finding, surveying and archaeology. Serendipity as well as science surely plays a part: it is hard to find consistent, rational grounds on which to exclude the contributions of pilgrims and exiles, diplomats and messengers, pirates and fishermen, hunters and foragers, merchants and migrants and mining prospectors. It is clearly not necessary to explore somewhere "new: " most of those "scientific" explorers followed in route-finders’ wakes, and the world has learned much from observant tourists. Is it necessary to travel at all? Much information about the structure of the world has been revealed in laboratories. Kant explored the universe on his walks around Königsberg. Who will explore for us the boundary between real and metaphorical exploration? And when does the history of the subject begin?

Even in the strictest sense of the word there have been four great ages of world exploration: the first more than a million years ago, when homo erectus spread from east Africa across Eurasia; the second from about 150,000 to about 50,000 years ago, when homo sapiens, starting from about the same place, covered the Old World; the third at an uncertain date, probably around 15,000 years ago, when the process was completed by the settlement of the Americas. The last has been going on more or less ever since, with accelerating pace: a history of restored communications between communities, cultures and civilisations, sundered by the effects of earlier explorations.

Raymond John Howgego, like most historians of exploration, has focussed on the last phase, or, more precisely, on the relatively well-documented period from about 3000 BC to c. 1800 AD. This is entirely proper. The routes explorers then established and the knowledge they transmitted were the scaffolding and platforms with which the modem world was built. Explorers were genuinely the harbingers and pioneers of the long-range exchanges of culture, commerce, colonies and contagion that now enmesh the globe. No one can deny that the subject is worthy or that Howgego’s enterprise is much needed. Over 7500 entries, of genuinely global ambition (albeit inevitably patchy coverage) aspire to convey an austerely factual panorama of the field, with selective bibliographical listings. The history of exploration is like a well-barnacled vessel: all the accumulated errors need to be scraped away, the suppositions voyages extruded, the forged maps and relations discarded and the speculations sorted from the facts. A reliable reference book is like a fair wind or longed-for landfall. It is a task which needs someone of Howgego’s gifts of patience, clarity and painstaking industry to accomplish.

Even the worthiest attempt is bound to have some deficiencies of the sort which tend to attract reviewers’ attention. These must be candidly stated. Howgego never says what he means by "exploration" and never makes a decision about coverage. His prudent criterion is to be as inclusive as possible. The book’s sub-title proclaims it "a comprehensive reference guide to the history and literature of exploration, travel and colonization." This is clearly over-ambitious, as colonization is hardly covered at all, and travel is treated very patchily. It leads the reader to some surprising encounters. Al-Ghazzali appears, presumably because of his spell as a pilgrim; but he never recorded any significant information about his travels. The author’s uncertainty about the wisdom of including him seems clear: most entries are accompanied by fairly extensive (and generally useful) bibliographies, but in al-Gazzali’s case we are told only that there are numerous editions of his works and that "most European commentaries are concerned with his influence on European thought."

Muhammad ought surely to have been included by the same criteria, but he is not. Royal itineraries are very under-represented. There is nothing about rulers as important in surveying their own realms as Hayan Wuruk in Java or Hideyoshi in Japan. Although in general the coverage is heroic, the author has made many capricious decisions: among the plant-finders and ethnographers of the VOC, for instance, Van Reede, Hermann and Meister appear, but not Rumphius or Witsen, Baldaeus but not De Laet.

The non-European coverage is a welcome and fascinating aspect of the book. Estebanico, the black slave who accompanied Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca across Texas, gets an entry, but not his namesake, who sailed with Magellan, or his successor, who was responsible for the first reports of the existence of Cibola (though the latter is mentioned in the entry for Marcos de Niza). One Inca explorer is included - Tupac Inca Yupanqui - but without mention of his alleged nautical feats (though under the entry for Alvarp de Mendafia, there is an allusion to legends of lands to the west of Peru). Ancient Egypt is remarkably well covered: the earliest figure to get an entry is Djer, whom Howgego dates, without referring to the controversy on this matter, to 2900 BC. Chinese, Arab and Persian figures all appear, whereas subjects from south and southeast Asia are hardly covered: this is a pity, as there is a wealth of material, especially in the Jatakas and epigraphic sources.

Howgego’s work should be understood essentially as a biographical dictionary. The geographical and thematic entries are too few and capricious to be useful. The entry on the Aleutian Islands is specifically confined to Russian voyages. To take random examples, there is no entry under Easter Island or Rapa Nui, none for Armenia or Ethiopia. There is a bibliography for Pennsylvania, for instance, but not Texas. An entry for "Phoenicians" covers the Canary Islands, but not Europe or Africa. There is an entry for fictitious voyages but none for suppositions ones, which are dealt with inconsistently: some have entries, but it is not always clear whether this amounts to endorsement of their historicity. Why are we told about Jason but not Odysseus? Rules of transcription are inconsistent. Bibliographies are inevitably patchy and of variable quality. In a very few entries - notably on Henry the Navigator, where the old myth of the scientific "centre" at Sagres recurs - the task of mastering all the available information has overwhelmed the author.

Still, the achievement is commendable, as far as it goes. Until confronted with the quality of Howgego’s work, I would never have believed it possible for a single writer to have produced a dictionary of such reliability and thoroughness on this elusive and danger fraught subject. It makes a handsome book, superbly produced by sensitive publishers. Yet the best place for its future development is unquestionably the web, where it could be kept up to date, corrected and expanded as knowledge increases.

Felipe Femindez-Armesto Queen Mary College, University of London,
London, England


Pitcairn Islands Study Center

Special Recommendation

All who are of adventurous bent, whose hearts burn to know more about the origins of distant lands - their discovery and their discoverers - all such will not be satisfied short of having in their possession the massive Encyclopedia of Exploration to 1800, recently published by Hordern House, Australia’s internationally renowned bookshop located in Potts Point, Sydney.

This 1168-page, handsomely bound comprehensive guide, fifteen years in the making by researcher, scholar, traveller Raymond John Howgego includes articles with bibliographies of all the principals of The Bounty Saga, but its scope is far greater than that single adventure. As its publishers rightly state, it is destined to become the standard work of reference for the history of world exploration, travel and colonisation.

The volume’s hefty $295 (Australian dollars) price, plus delivery, will daunt a few who are faint of heart, but it is a small price to pay for having a truly definitive work in hand. In what five other lower-priced volumes might one find 1.2 million words in 1200 pages containing 2327 major articles generating an index totalling more than 7500 names of persons or ships mentioned in the text? In this outstanding work one finds 4000 cross-references between articles and nearly 20,000 biographical citations accompanying the articles.

The Encyclopedia of Exploration is unlike any other guide by virtue of its combination of historical, biographical and bibliographical data. As it comes into the hands of researchers, students, historians, collectors, librarians and an armada of armchair adventurers this grand work will forever be their the first and best choice in learning.


The Spectator: Books of the Year 2003

By Alberto Manguel

Three very different books did not receive (in my opinion) the attention they deserved. First, the Collected Poems 1943-1995 of the Australian poet Gwen Harwood (University of Queensland Press). Harwood, who died only a few years ago and was one of the finest poets of the 20th century, deserves a wide and enthusiastic readership which I trust this edition may bring.

Second, the splendid novel Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas, translated by Anne McLean (Bloomsbury, £14.99), which redeems the epic genre much neglected in our time. This inquisition into a minuscule act of charity lost in the tangled morals of the Spanish civil war became a bestseller in Spain but was snubbed in the United Kingdom by critics who no doubt believe that all good literature must belong to the clipped-style school of Raymond Carver.

Third, The Encyclopedia of Exploration to 1800 (Hordern House) compiled by Raymond John Howgego: the definitive reference book for anyone interested in the history of travel. This accurate and comprehensive marvel includes one apocryphal entry prepared as a trap for plagiarists by the cautious editor.

Contrariwise, too much attention (again, in my opinion) was paid to the bad boy of French letters, Michel Houellebecq. Like his pompously boring Platform, Lanzarote, translated by Frank Wynne (Heinemann, £9.99), is yet another waste of spirit in an expense of shame.