Detail from Englands Famous Discoverers (PAD3722)
Earlier this year the Museum hosted a conference on Richard Hakluyt, the Elizabethan writer who published The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation between 1598 and 1600. Hakluyt was an unashamed propagandist for England’s maritime expansion and the huge number of stories that he brought together and published make terrific reading to this day: shipwrecks, privations, discoveries, encounters with different peoples across the globe, imprisonments, escapes – these are the staples that drive the stories along. In many ways, Hakluyt was the founder of the popular travel writing genre, the heirs of which today are travellers and writers like Michael Palin, Bruce Chatwin and Jonathan Raban. What’s firmly missing from Hakluyt is the ‘here there be dragons’ school of writing, which many people today expect to see in such early maritime adventures, for the Elizabethan mariners were largely practical people engaged on commercial ventures and recording as honestly as they could (with due allowance for exaggeration and wonder) extraordinary sights and experiences. Hakluyt left a unique record of a hugely important period in the history of England and later of Britain. His accounts are still regarded as important scholarly sources.
One of the things that became clear at the conference was that while there had been a lot of work on Hakluyt, there had never been a scholarly edition of The Principal Navigations – in fact, the last complete publication was over eighty years ago, although Penguin published edited highlights in the 1990s. Therefore it was decided that the time was ripe for a new, complete edition and the National Maritime Museum was delighted to be invited to help take the project forward, together with the Hakluyt Society, Dr Daniel Carey (National University of Ireland), Professor Andrew Hadfield (University of Sussex) and Professor Claire Jowitt (Nottingham Trent University). As Head of Research and Curatorial Group, I am representing the NMM on the project. A project of this size will take some years to complete, probably as many as ten years, but the British Academy and Nottingham Trent University have already generously sponsored the appointment of a research assistant and we’re all very confident that this important edition will be produced.