Scientific Ethnography and Travel, 1750–1850

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The period from the late eighteenth to the mid nineteenth century forms a distinctive era in the history of scientific ethnographic writing. A double framework of technological and political change demarcates its beginnings. On the technological side, advances in mathematics and scientific instrument making facilitated accurate navigation over the thousands of miles of a world sea voyage. On the political side, the era opens with the British victory over the French in the Seven Years’ War (in its North American theater, the French and Indian War), which was ratified by the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763. This conclusion to one contest set off a new round of competition between the two great powers, who now played out their rivalry in the vast, hitherto imperfectly charted expanse of the Pacific. State-sponsored French and British voyages soon set out to scour the far side of the globe for layover stations on the journey to Asia. Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811), a mathematical prodigy who had served Montcalm’s expedition during the disastrous concluding phase of the struggle for North American hegemony, led a world voyage from 1766 to 1769. On the British side, James Cook (1728-1779), who had distinguished himself as a surveyor-hydographer in Newfoundland, led three scientific voyages around the world from 1768 to 1771, from 1772 to 1775, and from 1776 until his death in Hawaii. These and other “scientific voyages” of the late eighteenth century served imperial aims by providing accurate charting of island locations and coastlines, one of the most remarkable achievements of the officers and scientists who risked their lives on wind-driven odysseys to the ends of the earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Science
Subtitle of host publicationThe Modern Social Sciences
EditorsTheodore M. Porter, Dorothy Ross
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781139053556
ISBN (Print)9780521594424
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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