Artists on Captain Cook’s Voyages to Batavia

Insect specimen
Oniscus chelipes, Alexander Buchan, September 2, 1768. Natural History Museum, London. Wheeler 1986, cat. 238. Photograph by Harriet Parsons.

Academic

Harriet Parsons
School of Culture and Communication

Chris Bond
Faculty of Fine Arts and Music

Intern

Sharon Wong
Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation

Project description

This project creates an interactive map of the first weeks of James Cook’s Endeavour voyage, focusing on the work of Sydney Parkinson’s lesser known colleague, the landscape and figure artist, Alexander Buchan. The lead researchers, Harriet Parsons and Chris Bond, are contemporary artists and Parsons has a background in the methodologies of intellectual history. The map uses data from Parsons’ doctoral research to match the dates the expedition’s drawings and watercolours were produced with its journal entries and the ship’s coordinates. This reveals the artists’ drawing sessions along the route of the voyage. Nothing is known of Buchan's life outside the Endeavour and Parsons and Bond will use the information provided by this map to construct an account of his drawing sessions based on the expert opinions of scholars from multiple disciplines and practical experiments in eighteenth-century methods of documentation.

Project outcome

The aim of this project was to create a tool for interpreting historical documents through interdisciplinary collaborative research. By connecting the expedition’s texts and drawings to the time and place where they were created, scholars from a range of disciplines are now able to link their research to a common reference point: the original manuscript. Much of the Endeavour’s records have been digitised but the collection is spread across several archives and catalogued according to different principles – topographical, art historical, scientific etc. The map allows these documents to be brought back together in their original relationship for common investigation. The multidimensional context provided by zoology, eighteenth-century drawing techniques and maritime history, for example, will allow the comprehensive analysis of a single drawing based on multiple authorities. The final map will allow users to explore the drawing sessions on each day with scholarly commentaries and links to related research.

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