restricted access Strangers in the South Seas: The Idea of the Pacific in Western Thought; An Anthology (review)
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Strangers in the South Seas: The Idea of the Pacific in Western Thought; An Anthology, edited by Richard Lansdown. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2006. ISBN cloth, 978-0-8248-2902-5; paper, 978-0 8248-3042-7; xvii + 429 pages, tables, figures, maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, US$55.00; paper, US$24.00.

In recent years several anthologies have reached the bookshelves(most prominently Exploration and Exchange: A South Sea Anthology, 1680–1900, edited by Jonathan Lamb, Vanessa Smith, and Nicholas Thomas [University of Chicago Press, 2000]), greatly empowering the reader's interest in the Pacific, and condensing a seemingly endless flood of primary documents on Oceania's pasts. Richard Lansdown's collection is part of this tradition, with a notable difference: he limits his scope to Western representations of the Pacific from the early sixteenth century to contemporary times. His educated choice is clearly stated in his admirable introduction. While his concern remains with the outsider or Euro-American view of Oceania, his introduction reveals an intimate familiarity with the most pertinent issues in contemporary study of the Pacific. Lansdown reminds his readers that the Islands were settled long before Ferdinand Magellan's arrival, and proceeds to discuss the most accepted theories regarding this nautical feat. Likewise, he chronicles how European attitudes toward the Pacific took shape several centuries before reaching this ocean, and investigates how ideas of "insularity" evolved during the early modern expansion. Deeply convinced that the Pacific's vast seascapes isolated Oceania's indigenous inhabitants from one other, Europeans often overlooked the numerous connections among Island societies, which frequently stretched over hundreds of miles of open sea. Last but not least, Lansdown engages the thorny subject of contact between Euro-American and indigenous societies, reminding his readers that issues of victimization and human agency are commonly interrelated and permeate the sources. [End Page 275]

To facilitate the digestion of the ample material, Lansdown places his excerpts in nine larger sections that follow a traditional but accepted path through Pacific history. From the perception of the Pacific as harboring resource-rich islands and mythical continents, Lansdown quickly turns to Western perceptions of indigenous Oceanians as either noble or ignoble savages, the former influencing enlightened and romantic notions and the latter propelling the prominent mission frontier into the Pacific Ocean during the second half of the eighteenth century. The first section features prominent selections on the British South Sea Company—an innovative approach that unfortunately comes at the expense of numerous early Dutch and Spanish accounts. Sections 4, 5, and 7, respectively, are situated in the nineteenth and early twentieth century when the Pacific emerged as an evident link between the investigation of biological evolution and the understanding of Western conceptions of race and anthropology. These segments represent the most interesting and innovating part of Lansdown's work, situating the Pacific in a larger framework of Western intellectual and scientific thinking about the wider world. Sections 6, 8, and 9 are more chronological, introducing the reader to excerpts on imperialism, the Second World War, and the ostensibly inevitable Western disillusionment with the area. Each subdivision carries a separate introduction that underscores the most prominent issues in the excerpts. Moreover, an extensive and exhaustive list of suggested readings permits readers to venture well beyond the primary sources listed in Strangers in the South Seas.

Lansdown's selection of source material clearly favors American, British, and French sources. Some of these are well-known renditions on the Pacific, ranging from the voices of Louis Antoine de Bougainville, James Cook, Charles Darwin, Paul Gauguin, and Jack London, to Margaret Mead. On occasion, Lansdown does not shy away from serving as the account's translator, as is the case with Philibert Commerson's "Postscript: On the Island of New Cythera or Tahiti" or JSC Dumont D'Urville's "The Islands of the Pacific." He also features a few voices that are not commonly heard in Pacific studies, most noticeably several comments on the South Sea Company in the early eighteenth century and Joseph-Marie Degérando's first stab at providing guidelines for the observation of indigenous people.

Overall, there is little doubt...


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