The three voyages of maritime exploration undertaken by Captain James Cook from 1768 to 1779 are perhaps the most famous of any in history. Filled with high drama, tragedy, intrigue, and humor, their stories have been told and retold for centuries. Justin M. Jacobs, associate professor of history at American University, investigates their enduring appeal by pairing the latest scholarly insights with extensive visual resources focusing on the people, places, and events of the voyages.
Jacobs is the author of several books, including The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures. He recently completed a 24-episode series on UNESCO World Heritage Sites for The Great Courses and is currently conducting research on the voyages of Captain Cook in the Pacific.
Please Note: Individual sessions are available for individual purchase.
March 10 Cook’s First Voyage
In 1768, an unknown British lieutenant named James Cook set off on a daunting maritime expedition around the world. By the time it was over, Cook had observed the transit of Venus in newly rediscovered Tahiti, charted the coastlines of New Zealand, re-established contact with isolated Polynesian societies, and survived a near shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef off the eastern coast of Australia. Jacobs revisits one of the most famous maritime voyages in world history by leveraging the latest scholarly insights to place the events of Cook’s first expedition into its proper historical context.
March 17 The Second Voyage
With the fame brought about by the successful completion of his first voyage, Cook was now charged with solving one of the greatest scientific mysteries of the day. In 1772, he set off to sail further south than any man had done before to determine if a “Great Southern Continent” really existed. Cook also spent considerable time in the Polynesian Triangle from Easter Island to Tonga, inaugurating a new age of Western colonialism in the Pacific.
March 24 The Third Voyage
In the summer of 1776, just as the American colonies proclaimed their independence from Britain, James Cook was brought out of retirement to conduct a third and last circumnavigation of the globe. The goal was to prove or disprove the possibility of a long-sought Northwest Passage across the frigid Arctic seas atop North America. Before it was over, however, Cook would both solve the riddle of the passage and rediscover the Hawaiian archipelago as well as provide the first detailed charts of the Pacific Northwestern coastline—before meeting his infamous and controversial end in Keleakekua Bay.
Photo caption (upper right): Captain James Cook
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