Society for the History of Discoveries

Reviews of Encyclopedias

Howgego, Raymond John. Encyclopedia of Exploration to 1800.  Potts Point (Australia): Hordern House, 2003. 1168 p.  ISBN 1875567364.

Hulme, Peter and Tim Youngs, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press, 2002.  343 p. ISBN 052178140.

Speake, Jennifer, ed. Literature of Travel and Exploration. New York/London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 3 vols., 2003.  1479 p. ISBN 157958247.

     Themes concerning our subject of exploration have attracted encyclopedic volumes for some years now, two of the best being by Helen Delpar and Frank Debenham. Now three such volumes have recently appeared, each on a slightly different aspect of the general theme. Raymond Howgego’s Encyclopedia is a remarkably full listing of “explorers” up to 1800, with no illustrations but with exceptionally full lists of printed sources for each subject. Howgego has tried for each article to produce accurate information, somewhat reminding the reader of “just the facts, sir, just the facts.” He has made good use of the Internet, though he observes that this has “provided an ideal channel for the perpetuation of errors.” Anybody wanting an up-to-date and factual account of a wide variety of explorers would do well to consult this rather expensive volume.

      The volume by Hulme and Young, in the tradition of Cambridge “Companions,” offers fifteen substantial chapters by well-known authorities on different aspects of travel-writing. The first part is devoted to “surveys,” the second to “sites,” and the third to “topics.”  This reader found the third part, on topics, to be the most lively, with pieces on gender, ethnography and the theory of travel-writing.  There is a full chronology, and “suggestions for further reading.” This is not so much an encyclopedia as a book to be taken gently and reflectively, chapter by chapter. It is a pity, though, that the publisher could not reproduce the dozen or so plates more elegantly than in a grayish monotone.

      Speake’s encyclopedia of the literature of travel and exploration is a very extensive venture, with about three hundred contributors, some of whom are members of our Society. Its emphasis remains firmly on the literature of exploration, giving for each of the biographical and geographical articles a very full set of “references and further reading.” This encyclopedia by its very subject-matter ventures more into assessment than does Howgego’s account of explorers, and they could usefully be used together. All three books are remarkable for the extent of their bibliographies, surely a positive aspect of Howgego’s justly criticized Internet.

David Buisseret
The University of Texas at Arlington

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