Voyager’s Dilemma

Harvard University Professor Joyce Chaplin talked about her book, Round About the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit, in which she presents the history of the circumnavigation of earth, going back to the days of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Professor Chaplin spoke at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Three of our most viewed posts since starting this site in mid-2011 have to do with the intersection of travel (in all its various forms) and sustainability so when we saw this video and the related book reviews we could not help thinking it might resonate with readers who have enjoyed those three posts. One challenge for the modern voyager is an inverse of the same as that to a hospitality-providing organization such as ours going forward: how do we get there and back with the smallest footprint possible?  It is not the same question Magellan was asking but some of the “voyage issues” have not changed over the centuries.  Click the image above to go to the video, and here for a review of the book in the LA Times:

A trip on a 140-foot sailboat helped inspire Harvard professor Joyce E. Chaplin to write “Round About the Earth: Circumnavigation From Magellan to Orbit” — and that may explain the enthusiasm she brings to the many-stranded narrative. At the very least, it underlies her sympathy for sailors on small boats heading into rough, unknown seas.

This history, the first of its kind, is a lively charge through 500 years of worldwide exploration (and beyond). Chaplin sets to the task by carving that time span into three parts.

Magellan launches the tale. History remembers him as the first to make it around the globe, but it was actually his boat and crew that completed the circuit — Magellan was killed in the Philippines in 1521. For the next 250 years, humans made their tenuous way around the globe. Apart from dangerous weather, rotting ships, and threats from fellow men, they had to contend with the disease and physical hardship of extended trips at sea. More than half who sailed never came back. As Chaplin elegantly puts it: “The planet simply shrugged them off.”

And from The National Review:

What emerges from this strikingly original and wonderfully researched book is not just the daring and the endurance displayed by successive circumnavigators, but also how odd and often unpleasant many of these individuals were, and how mixed were the responses to their exploits. Chaplin uses as her raw material the abundant, vivid, often horrifying narratives that were compiled by some of these men during or after their voyages. (Before 1918, the vast majority of circumnavigators were male.) But this book is much more than a succession of arresting travel narratives. Chaplin’s deeper aim is to attempt a new and significant form of history—to write a geodrama, as she calls it. Historians, she remarks, usually focus on human-to-human interactions over time. The theme of Round About the Earth, by contrast, is the interaction of generations of puny humans with a vast, often inhospitable, and now much endangered planet.

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