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To Master the Boundless SeaThe U.S. Navy, the Marine Environment, and the Cartography of Empire$
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Jason W. Smith

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469640440

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469640440.001.0001

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Empire of Commerce and Science

Empire of Commerce and Science

Chapter:
(p.41) 2 Empire of Commerce and Science
Source:
To Master the Boundless Sea
Author(s):

Jason W. Smith

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469640440.003.0003

This chapter examines the voyage of the United States Exploration Expedition, 1838-1842, focusing specifically on its hydrographic survey of the Fiji Islands in the summer of 1840. The coral reef-infested waters of the Fijis were among the most notorious in the Euro-American maritime world. They had long been ill-charted, and the Fijians themselves were widely rumored to be cannibals. This chapter argues that the American expedition sought to impose order on this dangerous marine environment through its hydrographic surveying, a fidelity to the precision of their methods, and, if necessary, by using the military power of this scientific expedition. Throughout the survey, the Americans’ faith in the precision of their work and the charts that derived from them was continually undermined by the agency of the marine environment and by the Fijian people themselves. Even as the American sought to open this ocean wilderness to expanding American trade in the islands by bringing order not just to the surrounding waters but to the cultural practice of Fijian cannibalism in a wide-ranging survey, they nevertheless had to resort to both science and violence when two American officers were attacked and killed.

Keywords:   United States Exploring Expedition, Fiji Islands, Coral Reef, Cannibals, Agency of nature, Charts, Surveying

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