Commonplace
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 12, 2005 Contact: James David Moran
(508) 471-2131 (office)
(508) 248-4694 (home)
(508) 783-5085 (cell)
jmoran@mwa.org (e-mail)

Common-place explores the Pacific rim
Online history journal finds parallels to early America
in lesser known communities of the far west

Worcester, MAÑSail the Pacific Ocean with Captain Cook, hunt for seal and otters with Russian fur traders in Alaska, beachcomb on the island of Samoa, and trace the California coast in the footsteps of Franciscan missionary Jun’pero Serra. In short, experience the history of the Pacific in the January issue of the online journal Common-place.

Editors Edward G. Gray and Alan Taylor note, "striking parallels in the stories and characters who populate the well known ground of AmericaÕs early history" with those who explored, settled and experienced the development of the Pacific rim.

"As the essays in this issue of Common-place make clear, disease, migration, trade, and war affected the Pacific in much the way they affected the Atlantic: they drew together vast, diverse collections of human beings, whether stretching from Easter Island west to New Zealand, or from Coastal California north and then west to the Kamchatka Peninsula," Gray and Taylor write.

The 15 essays bring to life personalities such as the quixotic John Ledyard, world traveler and explorer who sailed with Captain Cook and journeyed through Russia, and the flamboyant Harry Moors, trader and businessman who befriended author Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa.

Writer Christopher BenfeyÕs essay, "Herman Melville and John Manjiro," compares the experiences of the famous American author and the Japanese seaman as they explain both the nature of the multicultural floating world of the Pacific during the mid-nineteenth century and the emerging relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

Benfey describes Manjiro as a "Squanto figure," someone who lives between cultures. "Melville, too, was a Squanto figure of sorts, a trafficker in languages and cultures," he writes. "His Typee is an eloquent plea for tolerance of "primitive" cultures, and Moby-Dick offers a vision of men of different nationalities working in concert on a whaling ship.

Alan Frost tells the story, "James Mario Matra," the American-born seaman who sailed on "Endeavor," with James Cook during its 1768 voyage to the Pacific. Frost writes that, "historians have long suspected Matra as being the author of the first extended account of the EndeavourÕs voyage, published anonymously at the end of September 1771."

GrayÕs essay on Ledyard, "Go East, Young Man," gives new context to the life story of the acclaimed eighteenth century traveler.

"Far from simply a man of extraordinary determination and strength of character, John Ledyard was a man of his times," Gray writes. " Where he went, who he knew, how he traveled, his peculiar talents all reflected processes that drew in people from throughout the British Empire."

In, "A Radical Intellectual with Captain Cook," Harry Liebersohn introduces George Forster, the teenager who accompanied James Cook on his second circumnavigation and wrote an account of the voyage that "memorialized its achievements and its moral ambiguities."

It wasnÕt only the Europeans and Americans who traveled in the eighteenth century to broaden their experience. Jenny Newell, author of, "Pacific Travelers," considers the islanders who voyaged with Cook. Newell writes of Mai, who visited Britain and was one of the few among these travelers to survive the trip and return home, as well as Tupaia, Taiato, or Hitihiti. "The stories of these natives are no less dramatic or remarkable than those of the better known European explorers," Newell writes.

"The reasons the young island men had for embarking varied, but there were social advantages in associating with exotic foreigners and in acquiring European goods and firearms," she notes. "There was also the tantalizing opportunity to extend their horizons."

Greg Dening celebrates prehistoric Pacific travelers in his essay, "Encompassing the Sea of Islands." Dening hails the voyagers he calls Sea people who sailed across 1,200 kilometers of open sea to the island clusters of Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji. Toward the end of the eighteenth century the Pacific island of Samoa and specifically the beach at Apia, was the backdrop for American adventurer Harry Moors.

Damon Salesa, author of, "Misimoa, an American on the Beach", writes, "By the 1870s, Apia had become the PacificÕs ground zero for strategic and imperial competition between Germany, Britain, and the U.S. MoorsÕs life shows how places as diverse and distant as Kiribati, Tuvalu, Wallis Island, Chicago, and Samoa, were part of a vibrant circuitry."

Other personalities emerged in the rich and complex history of the Pacific. David IglerÕs essay, "Malaspina off and on the American Northwest Coast," tells of the Spanish navigator, explorer, and Enlightenment thinker Alejandro Malaspina who sailed in search of the Northwest Passage and cared for the health of his crew with studious measurements and maintenance of air quality aboard his ships.

Steven W. Hackel examines "The Competing Legacies of Jun’pero Serra," who he describes as "a man of extraordinary endurance, explosive energy, and unyielding determination, a man who placed his own mark on the heroic dimension of missionary life.

However, Hackel notes, "Serra believed with such certainty that his interpretation of Catholicism was the only path to salvation that he all too often proved uncompromising and alienated the very people he sought to convert."

The Common-place collection of essays on Pacific history includes examination of some of the events that shaped it.

In, "Pacific Overtures," Peter A. Coclanis writes of the Manila Galleon, the Spanish fleet carrying goods shipped from China through Manila and back to Acapulco. Coclanis notes that the Manila Galleon represented one of the turning points in history, "for with its establishment we find for the first time substantial and continuous trade across the Pacific Ocean."

John Demos considers, "Viewpoints of the China Trade," explaining that, after independence was achieved, American traders hastened to assert their own claims to what they called the Far East including: China, India, Sumatra, and the Philippines.

"The eventual outcome would include some astonishing individual fortunes, and a burst of capital formation to fuel the first phase of American industrial development," he writes.

In, "The Pacific Ocean and Eighteenth-Century French Imperial Policy," Paul Mapp demonstrates the significance of the early modern Pacific for the eighteenth-century French empire.

"France moved from acting alternately as aspiring South Sea intruder or fretting Pacific gatekeeper to becoming, along with economic competitors and sometime scientific collaborators such as Britain, Russia, Spain, and the United States, one nation among many contributing to the increasing intellectual, economic, and political integration of the Pacific Ocean into the larger global community," Mapp writes.

Russian Alaska is the subject of two essays. In, "First Meetings in the North Pacific," June Namias describes the encounter between Vitus Bering and native Americans off one of the Shumigan Islands in 1741.

"These native people would provide the critical link between the fur-bearing sea creatures and Russian power," she writes.

Gwenn A. MillerÕs essay considers "Russian Routes," and "offers an unusual perspective from which to explore the nature of colonial relations in early North America."

MillerÕs account of the settlement of Kodak Island and the experience of Alutiiq women, Russian men, and their children "points to the difficulty of attempting to characterize colonial contacts as either tender or violent."

The January 2005 issue of Common-place will be on-line through March and then available among the journalÕs archived issues on the website. Individuals may subscribe to the journal to be notified of publication of each issue. Common-place is published quarterly, in October, January, April, and July.

About Common-place

Common-place is a common place for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture. A bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaksÑand listensÑto scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900. Common-place readers can join in the discussion of any of the journalÕs features by visiting the "Common-place Coffeeshop," a message board on the website. Common-place is sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society and the Florida State University Department of History.

About the American Antiquarian Society

The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) is a learned society and independent research library, specializing in all aspects of American history and culture through 1876. Founded in 1812 by the patriot printer and publisher Isaiah Thomas, AAS is the third oldest historical organization in the United States and the first to take the whole nation as its scope. The AAS library is the preeminent repository of pre-twentieth-century American printed materials and related manuscript and graphic arts materials in the world.

The Society also sponsors an array of programs to encourage the use of its collections and to foster a greater understanding of American history. The main office for Common-place is at AAS, 185 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609-1634; telephone (508) 755-5221.

About the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

The Gilder Lehrman Institute (GLI) promotes the study of the American past by organizing seminars and enrichment programs for teachers; supporting and producing publications and national traveling exhibitions; creating innovative history high schools, history programs, and Saturday academies; establishing research centers at universities and cultural institutions; granting and administering a major fellowship program for work in leading archives; and seeking to build national and international networks of people and institutions involved in American history.

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