The Burning Archive Podcast

Exploring World History – Latest Burning Archive podcast

On the podcast this week I have released the second part of my conversation with Felipe Fernández-Armesto. In this podcast Felipe reflects on the multipolar world, China, India, Russia and the Hispanic History of America. We also have a remarkable conversation about the explorer, Magellan, and how explorers and exploration are the frontier of cross-cultural exchange. Felipe wrote Pathfinders: a Global History of Exploration and biographies of Magellan, Columbus, and Vespuccii, and he edited Malaspina’s remarkable journals.

Listen for our discussion of Captain James Cook, his map-making and his relationship with the Polynesian navigator and priest, Tupaia. Through an awkward cross-cultural exchange a remarkable artefact entered the burning archive of history and culture: Tupaia’s map of the Pacific, copied by Captain James Cook.

The story of this chart is told in many places, including Di Piazza, and Pearthree, “A new reading of Tupaia’s ChartThe Journal of the Polynesian Society 116, no. 3 (2007): 321–40. This article decodes how the map works and the debates over its accuracy as a representation of the physical world of the Pacific. Decoding is required because Tupaia’s Chart is not drawn on a Cartesian two-dimensional plane, but rather it was a layered network map, drawn from multiple positions. Despite two such different ways to see the representation of the world, Cook and Tupaia found a way to communicate to some difficult mutual understanding and collaboration. The authors noted that

Cook clearly remained fixed in his Cartesian world, adding cardinal points to Tupaia’s Chart. But both could look at the map and see their own system represented: Cook reading islands on a grid, and Tupaia reading islands radiating out from different centres.

It is one of those stories from the Burning Archive that show the potential to understand different forms of knowledge at the frontiers of cross-cultural exchange.

On Apple Podcasts here

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