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Strait Through: Magellan to Cook & the Pacific

on display in the Firestone Library

The Friendly Islands, the Dangerous Archipelago, the Unfortunate Isles, Cape Desire, Land of Fire, Islands of Disappointment, Land of the Holy Ghost, Islands of Thieves—such place-names given to Pacific geographic features by European explorers sound like they were lifted from a children’s board game where the object was to navigate around dangerous or hot spots in order to reach safe havens. But confronting more than twenty-five thousand islands, and without very accurate means of establishing locations, Pacific navigation in the Age of Exploration was often more pinball-like: ships rebounding from island to island to known port, searching for wind and water and fresh food and welcoming natives, and often renaming places that others had previously “found.” A good map was only half of the solution; the other was having the means of locating one’s ship on that map.