Captain Cook has been extremely influential in how we perceive and understand the modern world. To Britain he evokes pride as a national heroic symbolic figure, in other areas of the world he is as deeply enthralled in their heritage as he: “appears in children stories and in classroom histories as a new type of explorer” and “For many Europeans, Australians, and New Zealanders, Cook is part of their heritage.” (Obeyeskere 1992) both these quotes exemplifying his significance and importance, but also demonstrating how global his presence was felt. The recognition and fame he has been accredited for is an example of how he has managed to influence the modern world.

His three voyages of discovery accounted to the addition of one third of the map of the currently known world. He contributed to the world map by helping form its construction: performing the first circumnavigate (travelling all the way around the edge) of New Zealand and achieving first European contact with places such as Australia and the Hawaiian Islands. These areas were to be later incorporated into the British Empire. Such good were his navigating skills that it was recorded his maps were still used in the twentieth century: “he produced charts and maps that were of such accuracy that some were still in use as recently as the twentieth century”(

His charting of the Arctic and Antarctic coastlines created geographical imaginations that helped shape people’s understanding of these places. Often recording the indigenous people and studying the area and culture, this information was extremely influential to the Europeans when Cook returned and shaped how they imagined such places and people. In this essay I will look at just a handful of factors of which Cook has been accounted for in influencing the way we understand the modern world.

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In a recent field trip to whitby, Cook’s home town, I visited the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. Here I observed a picture of the head of a New Zealander, this picture showed a native Maoris with many tattoos displayed on his face. The Europeans were to become fascinated with such “elaborate tattoos” and as the sailors adopted such practises its popularity grew world wide. It is due to Cook’s expeditions that tattoos were discovered to Europeans and were influential enough to now be considered as modern body art.

Cook was always interested In the observation and exploration of place’s rather than the traditional “old south sea” buccaneer who wrestled resources from other areas (characterisation of mariners in the pacific up to 1750’s. by Glyndwr Williams) this can be seen by Daniel Clayton’s summary: “He was sent on a scientific mission to map the pacific and observe rather than exploit its peoples and resources.” This quote signifying that he was observing for study rather than exploiting for gain. His officers and him kept detailed logs of their travels, and so the foreign artefacts, objects and published journals where described as influential upon return. This can be seen from the quote : “heightened curiosity, stimulated natural history, and contributed to the emergence of human sciences” (Clayton 2000.) where he refers to the work of Cook.

Cook was indeed on a voyage of exploration devoid from goals of plunder and conquest. He had no specific agenda other than scientific exploration. This is evidenced by his sponsorship by the Royal Society which was described as “the nations premier scientific organisation.” (Obeyeskere 1992) his ship went on to be described as a “floating laboratory.” Hhis crew consisted of scientists studying and interested in botanical collections and taxonomies along with various other scientific interests. His influence from scientific study can be summed up by : “these scientific voyages influenced the shift in the order of European Knowledge from the taxonomies and theological principles of the eighteenth century to the historicism’s and secular principles of the nineteenth century.” (Clayton 2000) This is evidence of the influence he has had on the modern world and scientific practise.

Aside from his scientific study of the areas he visited he was also influential in other ways. He wanted to to impose the English culture and a sense of nationality upon the areas he visited. For example Cook was responsible for naming places and countries, for example New Zealand.

I believe that there are many examples and factors that can be used to demonstrate how Captain Cook was an extremely important figure in influencing the modern world through his travels of exploration. He is also extremely modern today, the town of whitby for example, has a large amount of its income come from tourists visiting the area to visit monuments and the history of Captain Cook. However it is important to remember that while his reputation may be remembered as heroic and worth while, other accounts reside that tell tales of the conversion of the areas he visited to the British Empire being associated with “brutal and arguably genocidal effects.” The Australian Aborigines myths such as the Batemans Bay in New South Wales could be used an example where his success was exaggerated:

“Captain Cook arriving on a large ship… from which he disembarked to give the myth-teller’s predecessors clothes (to wear) and hard biscuits (to eat), following which he returned to his ship and sailed away. Mumbulla told how his predecessors rejected Captain Cook’s gifts, throwing them into the sea.”(


Accessed 12/12/2009:,_New_South_Wales


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