Unveiling History’s Mysteries: Exploring MIT’s Archives | MIT News

**English Voyages in Search of the Northeast Passage to China**
In the 1550s, English sailors embarked on a series of expeditions in search of a supposed “Northeast Passage” to China. While they did not find the passage they were looking for, they did discover a route to Russia. These voyages played a crucial role in the subsequent founding of the Muscovy Company, the first joint stock trading company, which served as a model for future enterprises. MIT professor Mary Fuller explains that these expeditions not only improved navigational techniques but also prompted the development of management and financial structures to support sustained enterprises. Despite their relative obscurity today, these voyages held significant importance to English cleric Richard Hakluyt, who considered them proof that England could rival Spain and Portugal in exploration. Hakluyt included accounts of these expeditions in his renowned compendium, “The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation,” which aimed to compile records of all English travel beyond Europe.

**A New Reading of Hakluyt’s Compendium**
In her recently published book, “Lines Drawn across the Globe,” MIT professor Mary Fuller offers a fresh interpretation of Hakluyt’s compendium. Fuller expands our understanding of Hakluyt’s objectives and situates his work in a historical context where England’s exploratory capabilities were unproven. While the compendium is often remembered for documenting famous stories of Elizabethan maritime history, Fuller argues that it contains much more. Hakluyt’s compilation had a broader scope than its focus on English exploration, as it included translated accounts of French, Portuguese, and Spanish voyages. Moreover, Fuller seeks to emphasize the complexities of the world encountered by English voyagers. They encountered sophisticated empires such as the Ottoman Empire and West Africa, and their attitudes towards these cultures varied from derision and exclusion to imitation and admiration.

**Hakluyt’s Bias and Ethical Considerations**
Fuller also sheds light on Hakluyt’s bias and ethical considerations. Some accounts in the “Principal Navigations” reflect England’s rivalry with Spain, portraying the English as morally superior. However, Hakluyt largely overlooks the English involvement in the Atlantic slave trade, choosing to omit that topic. Despite his focus on English victories and values, Hakluyt expresses admiration for Spanish naval institutions and seeks to establish similar institutions in England.

**Hakluyt’s Work: Complex, Cosmopolitan, and Ecumenical**
Fuller contends that Hakluyt’s work is more intricate and cosmopolitan than commonly believed. Instead of focusing solely on the highlights of his compendium, Fuller examines the details and their connections. Her research fills a void in Elizabethan maritime history, as there has not been a modern critical edition of Hakluyt’s book since 1928. Scholars have hailed “Lines Drawn across the Globe” as a magisterial work and an indispensable guide to understanding Hakluyt’s compendium.

**The Impact of MIT on Fuller’s Research**
Mary Fuller acknowledges the impact of being part of MIT on her research. The diverse range of colleagues and interdisciplinary conversations at the institution have influenced her work. Topics such as navigation, the cloth trade, and ocean temperature have fostered connections with colleagues and created a broad network that enhanced her research.

In conclusion, Mary Fuller’s book “Lines Drawn across the Globe” offers a new perspective on Richard Hakluyt’s compendium, “The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation.” Fuller broadens our understanding of Hakluyt’s intentions, explores the complexities of the world encountered by English voyagers, and highlights ethical considerations. Her research fills a gap in Elizabethan maritime history and has been praised as a comprehensive guide to reading Hakluyt’s work.

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