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Captain Cook at Nootka Sound and some questions of colonial discourse Currie, Noel Elizabeth


This dissertation examines the workings of various colonial discourses in the texts of Captain James Cook’s third Pacific voyage. Specifically, it focusses on the month spent at Nootka Sound (on the west coast of Vancouver Island) in 1778. The textual discrepancies between the official 1784 edition by Bishop Douglas, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, and J.C. Beaglehole’ s scholarly edition of 1967, The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780, reveal that Cook’s Voyages present not an archive of European scientific and historical knowledge about the new world but the deployment of colonial discourses. Examining this relatively specific moment as discourse expands a critical sense of the importance of Cook’s Voyages as cultural documents, for the twentieth century as well as for the eighteenth. Chapters One and Two consider the mutually interdependent discourses of aesthetics and science: based upon assumptions of “objectivity,’ they distance the observing subject from the object observed, in time as well as in space. Chapter Three traces the development of the trope of cannibalism and argues that this trope works in the editions of Cook’s third voyage to further distance the Nootka from Europeans by textually establishing what looked like savagery. Chapter Four examines the historical construction of Cook as imperial culture hero, for eighteenth-century England, Western Europe, and the settler cultures that followed in his wake. Taken separately and together, these colonial discourses are employed in the accounts of Cook’s month at Nootka Sound to justify and rationalise England’s claim to appropriation of the territory. The purpose of these colonial discourses is to fix meaning and to present themselves as natural; the purpose of my dissertation is to disrupt such constructions. I therefore disrupt my own discourse with a series of digressions, signalled by a different typeface. They allow me to pursue lines of thought related tangentially to the main arguments and thus to investigate the wider concerns of the culture that produced Cook’s voyages, They also give me the opportunity to interrogate my own critical methodology and assumptions. Ultimately I aim not to create another, more convincing construction of Cook and his month at Nootka Sound, but to illuminate a cultural process, a way of making meaning that is part of his intellectual legacy.

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