Felix Schürmann

Forming Oceanic Space: Sailing, Imagining, and Mapping the Mid-nineteenth Century Pacific 

Did imaginaries of the seas lead to practices at sea, or did practices at sea develop into imaginaries of the seas? Apparently, both views are true, since the material and discursive dimensions of the maritime realm influenced each other reciprocally throughout history, and the causative agency can hardly be determined at one side only. Leaving it at that, however, would be more than unsatisfactory, since a closer examination of the relations between sailing on and looking at the sea promises valuable insights into historical formations and transformations of oceanic and global spaces.
Attempting such an examination at the example of the mid-nineteenth-century Pacific, this presentation analyses three prominent maps that each played their part in shaping popular notions of the world’s largest ocean during the key period of the colonization of Oceania. Namely, the sample comprises of Matthew Maury’s “Whale Chart” (Washington, D.C., 1851), August Petermann’s “Der grosse Ocean” (Gotha, 1857), and John Bartholomew’s “Oceania and Pacific Ocean” (Edinburgh, 1867). To what extent can these quite different maps be understood as outcomes of actual events at sea, e.g. in terms of the origins of input data they relied upon? How did they contribute to forming data and information into notions, narratives, and visual arguments? Given that maps may possess not only a representing quality, but also an animating quality (meaning that they can motivate actions): What roles did they play in material processes such as resource exploitation, and, in particular, how did they relate to the colonial enclosure as well as to the scientification of oceanic space? Discussing cartographic features as well as aspects of production, reception, usages, and discursive contexts, the presentation contributes to the debate of how to critically read ocean maps as sources in the ongoing project of historicizing the seas.