Exploration is in our genes. Throughout history, one of the deepest human impulses has been the drive to explore, encounter, and know the unknown. This basic human longing can be traced all the way back to the most ancient origins of exploration over 60,000 years ago, when prehistoric wanderers first settled the globe. Today’s high rates of global tourism and mass migrations reflect continuity with the restless habits of our ancestors.
From ancient wayfarers to modern astronauts, a steady succession of intrepid individuals can take the credit for binding the continents together, connecting previously isolated peoples, and sparking a cross-fertilization of ideas, technologies, and even foods.
In creating new trade routes and initiating a commerce of ideas, explorers have played perhaps the most active role in shaping the globalized world. The trails they blazed were fraught with danger, as they contended with disease, starvation, mutiny, perilous weather, and even cannibals.
In History’s Greatest Voyages of Exploration, you delve into the awe-inspiring, vast, and surprisingly interconnected tale of world exploration. Taught by Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, an award-winning history professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, these 24 lectures shine a spotlight on some of the greatest and most influential explorers the world has ever known—successful as well as unsuccessful, admirable as well as flawed. You’ll be spellbound as you witness the treacherous, at times fatal, expeditions into the unknown these adventurers embarked upon, whether to the frozen Poles, Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa, the ocean’s depths, or the final frontier of space.
This course will revolutionize how you view the world by unveiling the process by which we came to know the far reaches of our planet. Throughout, you’ll examine the complex motivations behind these journeys, including religion, conquest, commerce, scientific discovery, and the overwhelming sense of wanderlust; and how voyages of discovery have inspired subsequent voyages—particularly when the preceding journey failed.
You’ll also discover the role that legends and myths have played in inspiring journeys, such as quests for places like the Northwest Passage; expeditions hunting for monsters and cannibals; and the pursuit of real or legendary individuals, such as Dr. Livingstone or Prester John, a mythical Christian king in Asia.
Gripping Stories of Risk and Rescue
Even those familiar with these voyages will find new insights to deepen their understanding of the historical reality, including how oftentimes, the reality of what was or wasn’t found turned out to be much more important than the original mission goals. You’ll be riveted as you follow explorers venturing into uncharted territory and putting themselves, and often their crews, in dire peril.
- St. Brendan and his Irish monks: Driven by the desire to escape a tainted world, they set sail into the Atlantic on a legendary journey in a precarious leather boat.
- Henry Hudson: After failing to find the Northwest Passage to Asia, Hudson’s crew staged a mutiny, setting him, his son, and several loyal sailors adrift on Hudson Bay, never to be seen again.
- Sir John Franklin: Also failing to chart the Northwest Passage, Franklin and his crew mysteriously vanished, with theories of their disappearance ranging from lead poisoning, to bad food canning techniques, to cultural hubris, to cannibalism.
- Alexander von Humboldt: Called “the greatest scientific traveler that ever lived” by Darwin, he left behind a life of prestige to chart South America.
- David Livingstone: In the most famous PR stunt of the history of exploration, Henry Morton Stanley located the ill Livingstone in Tanzania, supposedly greeting him with the immortal phrase, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
Your own journey begins with the amazing feats of pre-modern explorers, including the ancient Polynesian navigators and Pytheas the Greek, who worked without advanced technologies yet achieved epic results. From there, you trace the full trajectory of global exploration, concentrating on those explorers and expeditions that have had the most long-lasting impact on history.
- Sail with Captain Cook as he maps vast unknown territories.
- Circumnavigate the world with Ferdinand Magellan.
- Dive into the Mariana Trench, miles beneath the ocean, with Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh.
- Join Apollo 8 as its astronauts capture the space program’s most famous photograph, the 1968 “Earthrise.”
- Track the perilous races to the North and South Poles by Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen, and Sir Ernest Shackleton, among others. Discover lesser-known moments of the races, including when Italian pilot Umberto Nobile crashed in the arctic, unleashing a remarkable international rescue effort.
Through it all, you consider what drove these explorers, from proselytizing and pilgrimage to the lure of wealth, conquest, fame, and new lands, as evidenced by the Vikings’ arrival in North America; Marco Polo’s journey along the Silk Road to China; Christopher Columbus’s “Enterprise of the Indies”; the conquistadors’ ravages in Latin America; and the tiny kingdom of Portugal’s triumphant circumnavigation of Africa to seize control of trade in the Indian Ocean.
A Uniquely Global Perspective
In History’s Greatest Voyages of Exploration, you not only get the adventurers’ points of view, but the discovered peoples’ perspectives as well. Rather than myopically focusing on Europeans, it also presents a meaningful portrait of the travels of non-Westerners, including:
- Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang’s famous “voyage to the West” in search of holy scriptures in India;
- Arab scholar Ibn Battuta’s 24 years of travel through the extensive Islamic world; and
- Japan’s Iwakura mission to the West, which toured America, Europe, the Middle East, and China to gain scientific and political knowledge after centuries of isolation.
Along the way, you’ll meet several remarkable women who defied the conventions of society and made lasting contributions, like Ida Pfeiffer, an extreme traveler who ventured among Borneo headhunters, fought off Brazilian bandits, and collected scientific specimens for museums to fund her travels. You’ll also learn about Sacajawea, a Shoshone woman whose interpreting skills were crucial to Lewis and Clark as they charted the Louisiana Purchase.
Encounters between explorers and indigenous peoples are a recurring theme throughout—with interactions ranging from cordial greetings and a sense of affinity to reactions of extreme suspicion, violence, and accusations of cannibalism.
Despite such clashes, instances of assistance from locals are numerous. The extent to which explorers relied upon the specialized knowledge of locals is often pushed to the margins in the history of exploration, but it’s a truth that Professor Liulevicius brings into the spotlight.
Embark on a Thrilling Intellectual Journey
As a veteran professor of several top-rated Great Courses who is known for his extensive expertise, Dr. Liulevicius brings this survey to life with vivid detail. When experiencing the material on video, maps help you visually trace the journeys discussed and enhance the professor’s engaging storytelling.
The tales in History’s Greatest Voyages of Exploration will help even familiar things such as spices take on new meaning, as you learn how deeply they have motivated centuries of explorers. Your own travels will also be enriched when viewed in the context of the generations of previous travelers who’ve blazed the path. You’ll see the world through an explorer’s eyes!