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The Oxford Companion to World Exploration


This Companion was planned from the start to make the most of a collaboration between Oxford University Press and The Newberry Library in Chicago, and it has from its inception enjoyed the support of Casper Grathwohl of the Press, and of James Grossman, director of Research and Education at the Library. Work was based at the Library in the Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography, whose director is Jim Akerman, and I was able to call on the advice of the Library’s staff, as well as on the photographic expertise of Catherine Gass.

Although it may not be obvious at the time, a Companion’s successful emergence depends largely on the four or five scholars who agree at the start to recruit contributors for areas in which they are expert. Here this Companion was remarkably fortunate, for Professors Sanford Bederman, Carla Rahn Phillips, Richard Talbert, and Glyn Williams have been able to offer sustained support over five years, finding replacements for contributors who had to drop out and themselves writing a number of articles. Professor Marina Tolmacheva also began in this way, until she left Washington State University to become president of the American University in Kuwait.

These area editors were in turn sustained by those who agreed to be advisors. All of them offered useful criticisms of the original proposal, and some were able to help with areas in which they were particularly competent: Professor Roy Bridges for African themes, Professor Patricia Gilmartin for the story of women explorers, Professor Laura Hostetler for Chinese cartography, Dr. Steven Dick for the history of space exploration, and Professor Carol Urness for the Russian explorers. Professor Norman Thrower offered general advice out of his great experience; alas, our cartographic expert, Professor David Woodward, died as the volume was in preparation.

As may be imagined, once an enterprise like this is under way, it becomes clear that some themes lack obvious authors, or indeed that the obvious authors cannot undertake the work. We have been most fortunate, then, to be able to call upon the expertise of members of the Society for the History of Discoveries. Their enthusiasm has been a great encouragement and has allowed the Companion to cover a greater rangethan would otherwise have been possible. The editors have also been encouraged by the zeal of the representatives of Oxford University Press. In the early phases, Joe Clements worked diligently on acquiring articles; the project has greatly benefited in its final stages from the hard work of Georgia Maas, managing editor, and of Eric Stannard, who was in charge of imagery. My former employer, the University of Texas at Arlington, generously allowed me to take the fall semester off during five years in order to work on this Companion.

Samuel Johnson once summarized the nature of the work upon which we all have been engaged: “There are two things which I am confident I can do very well; one is an introduction to any literary work, stating what it is to contain, and how it should be executed in the most perfect manner. The other is a conclusion, showing from various causes why the execution has not been equal to what the author promised to himself and to the publick.” We could of course provide such a conclusion, but hope that we have done enough to lead our readers into a newly relevant and fascinating field of study, opening up themes we hope that they will explore further.