Reimagining the Pacific, 1870 to 1970

6 October 2020

Scholar Talk: Reimagining the Pacific, 1870 to 1970

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This talk takes inspiration from Australian art historian Bernard Smith’s Imagining the Pacific published in 1992 as well as his authoritative earlier work, European Vision and the South Pacific published in 1960. Smith saw the Pacific as an ideological construction of the European imagination during the intense period of exploration in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

That, of course, was when Australia was ‘discovered’ and colonised by the British. Smith made the case that scientific ideas largely displaced the more emotive notions of nobility and ignobility from the 1850s. This talk looks at representations of the south and north-west Pacific in the writing of European Australians during the century that followed. During that period, colonists defined themselves specifically against their neighbours in racial terms. What followed was both ‘scientific’ and emotive, as Christian and enduring Enlightenment ideas of a common humanity vied with the powerful narrative of difference. 

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