Travel and Exploration

Geographia Nubiensis
Paris; Hieronymus Blageart, 1619

Prior to the early fifteenth century, one of the few works available to Europeans which described distant lands such as Africa and the Atlantic islands was the treatise compiled by the noted Arab geographer Idrisi (ca. 1099-1154). Employed by Roger II of Sicily (1101-1154) as court geographer, Idrisi sent emissaries to observe and describe various countries and regions, including Scandinavia, Germany, France, Italy, Syria, and Egypt. Idrisi organized this material into his geography which he entitled Al Rojari (1154) in memory of his patron. The title Geographia Nubiensis comes from a misreading of a passage relating to Nubia and the river Nile by the two Maronite scholars who issued this first Latin edition in 1619. In composing his treatise, Idrisi relied heavily upon Arabic versions of Ptolemy's Geography, not generally available in Europe until Greek and Latin manuscript versions began to circulate in the fifteenth century.

Collectiones peregrinationum in
Indiam Orientalem et Indiam Occidentalem
Frankfurt a. M.: 1590-1634. Twenty-five volumes
Collected and engraved by Theodor de Bry et al.

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were a period of unprecedented European expansion. The story of this adventure was recorded in a wealth of literary accounts describing the many new and exciting discoveries. By the latter half of the sixteenth century there was a great demand for anthologies which brought this information together. One of the most influential of these works was that of the renowned German engraver Theodor de Bry (1528 ­ 1598), whose collection was a major, if not the major, source of visual representations of exotic peoples in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Drawing upon prior voyage collections such as Richard Hakluyt's, de Bry and his sons created intriguing glimpses into distant lands and societies which fueled the growing fascination with the New World and Asia.

Chinese Rites
Italy, ca. 1710

As European travellers found their way over the globe, they were frequently accompanied by missionaries who sought the conversion of newly discovered peoples. The Jesuits were especially successful in establishing the Church in Asia by adapting Christianity to the customs of local communities. In China, where they had begun active mission work in the late sixteenth century, the Jesuits adopted native dress and customs, allowing their converts to continue rituals of respect to Confucius and to their ancestors, and to express the Christian concepts of Heaven and God in Chinese terms. The "Chinese Rites" controversy, which began in the mid-seventeenth century, stemmed from the vigorous condemnation of this policy of accommodation by other clergy who feared that Christian doctrine was being perverted. The issues were debated well into the next century, when this hand-written copy of pamphlets describing the controversy was made. Bitterly disputed in Europe, the matter finally led to the expulsion of all missionaries from China in 1724 and to the decline of Jesuit influence in Europe.

Adam Olearius
Moscowitische und Persianische
Hamburg: Zacharias Herteln and Thomas von Wiering, 1696

During the early seventeenth century, northern European merchants saw Russia as a land through which secure trade routes might be opened to Persia and points east ­ without danger from or taxation by the Turks, and unknown to Italy, Spain, and Portugal. In 1633, Adam Olearius (1600-1671) was appointed secretary to an embassy from the Duke of Holstein to Muscovy and Persia which sought to make that Duchy an entrepot for overland silk trade. Due to serious miscalculations concerning the proposed route along the Volga and other factors, the commercial goals of the five-year (1634 ­ 1639) mission were never realized. Yet Olearius' account of his travels, first published in 1647, became one of the major early descriptions of "Russia" by a European and was a popular success. With his sharp wit and anecdotal style, Olearius described the everyday life of nobility and peasant alike. He considered the Russians, with some reservations, as a Christian people, yet saw Russian institutions as so different from their Western counterparts as to constitute a distinct civilization.

Peter Simon Pallas
Reise durch verschiedene Provinzen des
Russischen Reichs in einem ausführlichen Auszuge
Frankfurt and Leipzig: Johann Georg Fleischer, 1776 ­ 78
Three volumes and atlas of plates

During the long reign of Catherine II, Russia became increasingly receptive to Western science, technology, and culture. The German-born empress invited scores of foreign scholars to take up residence in Russia in the hope of developing the material resources and intellectual life of her empire. In 1767 she called the celebrated naturalist Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811) to a professorship in natural history at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. The following year Pallas participated in a research expedition through little-studied regions of the empire. This fruitful journey resulted in his monumental Reise, first issued 1771-1776. Pallas' work provided great amounts of data on a variety of subjects, including botany, zoology, geology, geography, ethnography, philology, and medicine. Employing the comparative method, he laid the foundations of a new natural history that excluded metaphysics and was influential in the development of evolutionary theory.

Pierre Sonnerat
Voyage à la Nouvelle-Guinée
Paris: Chez Ruault, 1776

In the latter half of the eighteenth century, France made serious attempts to break the monopoly in the spice trade which the Dutch had long enjoyed. Having annexed the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean (1743), they built permanent settlements (1768) and spice plantations, later dispatching expeditions to India, the Malay archipelago, and elsewhere. A naturalist accompanying one such voyage was Pierre Sonnerat (1745-1814). During a journey to the Moluccas, Philippines, and neighboring islands taken in 1771-1772, Sonnerat made extensive observations of primitive societies and exotic wildlife, which he subsequently reported in Voyage à la Nouvelle-Guinée. Although the title of his work refers to New Guinea, Sonnerat did not actually land there but rather on nearby islands. The many specimens and curiosities which he brought to the king's cabinet further stimulated the growing interest in the "noble savage," a popular romantic image which persisted well into the nineteenth century.

Pierre Trémaux
Voyage au Soudan orientale et
dans l'Afrique septentrionale
Paris: Chez Borani, [1852 ­ 62]

Prior to the early nineteenth century, vast interior regions of Muslim-dominated North Africa were closed to European travellers. But a combination of events led to the journey of French archaeologist Pierre Trémaux (b. 1818) and several European scientists through previously unexplored areas of eastern Sudan and Ethiopia from 1847-1854. Bonaparte's occupation of Egypt (1798 ­ 1799), Champollion's decipherment of the Rosetta Stone (1822), and the growth of "Orientalism" in Europe created a great interest in Egyptian and North African monuments and culture. An opportunity to advance far up the Nile valleys beyond Nubia was provided by the conquest of the Sudan by Pasha Mehemet Ali in 1820-1822. Desirous of exploiting the new mineral resources, the Egyptian ruler dispatched a European research team into the territory. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, Trémaux was able to join the team and record the many ancient monuments and contemporary societies encountered along the way. Voyage au Soudan contains many examples of early photography, only then being introduced to field research.