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History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration

History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration

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History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration

Course No. 3962
Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Ph.D.
University of Tennessee
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4.7 out of 5
45 Reviews
93% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 3962
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring a variety of visuals designed to aid in your understanding of the course material. Included in these visuals are detailed maps that help you chart the explorations of the Silk Road, the Louisiana Purchase, the North Pole, and more; and portraits of iconic explorers like Leif Eriksson, Sir John Mandeville, Henry Hudson, and Dr. Livingstone. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • Follow the Vivaldi brothers' fascinating - yet ill-fated - trip to India.
  • Learn how explorers such as Leif Eriksson, Marco Polo, and Ibn Battuta redefined our world view.
  • Follow explorers such as Lewis and Clark and Henry Hudson on their smaller scale - but no less dangerous - travels.
  • Look at modern modes of exploration, including deep-sea dives and space odysseys.

Course Overview

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!

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Earliest Explorers
    Begin your journey with the Vivaldi brothers' ill-fated journey to India. What drove the brothers - or drives any explorer - to take a risk and venture into the unknown? Consider that question as you look at theories on how the Pacific islands became populated starting with an epic movement 7,000 years ago. x
  • 2
    The Scientific Voyage of Pytheas the Greek
    Meet the originator of scientific exploration, who trekked to the edge of the world so that he could see for himself what was there. Put Pytheas the Greek in the context of his time and place, sketching the Mediterranean as a cradle of civilization and examining how word of his voyage influenced later exploration. x
  • 3
    St. Brendan: The Travels of an Irish Monk
    Consider religious motivations for exploration. Men like the Irish monk St. Brendan - who sailed the Atlantic in a tiny leather boat - sought God and fled the world's corruptions, some searching for paradise and some merely for seclusion. Examine how legendary re-workings of such real adventures left a surprising legacy that would affect later exploration. x
  • 4
    Xuanzang's Journey to the West
    Alarmed at inconsistencies in the Buddhist texts available to him, Xuanzang embarked on an illegal holy pilgrimage to acquire authoritative teachings. See how, in the process of the monk's travels, he brought Buddhist traditions to the Confucian Chinese, achieved celebrity status, and became the central character in the greatest classical Chinese novel. x
  • 5
    Leif Eriksson the Lucky
    While the story of Leif Eriksson and the Vikings is relatively well known, Professor Liulevicius takes you deeper into the question of why the Vikings, or Norsemen, explored, as evidenced by their broader culture of adventure and values that pressed them onwards in often violent ways x
  • 6
    Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville
    Although traders had traveled the Silk Road since the Roman Empire, there was little awareness of what existed at the other end - until Marco Polo's accounts of China opened Europeans' eyes to a mysterious, advanced civilization. Start with background on the medieval world, then look closely at Polo's travels and legacy. x
  • 7
    Ibn Battuta: Never the Same Route Twice
    Examine the life and legacy of Ibn Battuta, who left Morocco in 1325 to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, but discovered a craving for spiritual travel and returned home 24 years later after covering 75,000 miles in the network woven by Muslim civilization." x
  • 8
    Portugal's Great Leap Forward
    How and why did tiny Portugal, a poor country, take to the seas, round the continent of Africa, hijack the Indian Ocean, and create a global empire? Find out here, with a look at Portugal's rise to superpower status, from Prince Henry the Navigator's call for exploration to Vasco da Gama's successful voyage to Asia. x
  • 9
    The Enigmatic Christopher Columbus
    Understand the complexities of Christopher Columbus who, in stumbling upon the Americas while attempting to reach Asia by heading West, touched off the massive Columbian Exchange of peoples, plants, commodities, and diseases. Dispel enduring myths, and explore Columbus's religious motives for launching what he called "The Enterprise of the Indies." x
  • 10
    Magellan and the Advent of Globalization
    Follow the path of Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, whose expedition in service of Spain became the first to circumnavigate the world, inaugurating our ability to think globally and accomplishing what Columbus had promised to do - reaching Asia by sailing west from Europe. See how his journey bound together the world economy, creating consequences down to our own times. x
  • 11
    The Ruthless Ambition of the Conquistadors
    Consider the most brutal of explorers, the conquistadors - Spanish military entrepreneurs including Cortes, Pizarro, and de Soto, who were not directly controlled by the monarchy, but royally sanctioned to seize wealth and lands in the New World. How did they topple civilizations using only a handful of men? What impact did they have on native societies? Find out here. x
  • 12
    Henry Hudson: Death on the Ice
    Switch gears from voyages of fruitful discovery to a tragic failure ending in mutiny, murder, and a mystery that endures to this day: Henry Hudson's 1610 voyage in search of the Northwest Passage to Asia, funded by two of the first multinational corporations. x
  • 13
    The Jesuits on a Global Mission
    Founded in 1540, the order of the Jesuits used global cultural exploration as a means to proselytize to local cultures across the world, from India and China to the Americas. Examine their controversial method of inculturation, and place the Jesuit project in the context of a larger intellectual shift towards cultural relativism. x
  • 14
    Captain Cook Maps the World
    Look closely at Captain Cook, an explorer who in many ways epitomized the age of scientific discovery, which lauded exploration for the sake of knowledge. See how his methods and voyages embodied new attitudes toward foreign peoples, and why it's what Cook didn't find that helped give us the complete world picture we have today. x
  • 15
    Alexander von Humboldt: Explorer Genius
    Learn how the scientific explorer Alexander von Humboldt - sometimes called a "second Columbus" - taught us to see the world as an interrelated ecological unit. Trace his five-year exploration of the Americas with French botanist Aime Bonpland, in which they covered 5,950 miles and catalogued 6,300 species of plants and animals. x
  • 16
    Jefferson Dispatches Lewis and Clark
    On President Jefferson's (originally secret) orders, the U.S. Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to chart the new territories gained by the Louisiana Purchase, while recording its people, flora, and fauna. How did they cross Native American-occupied lands peacefully? What was the expedition's political significance? Find out here. x
  • 17
    Sir John Franklin's Epic Disaster
    Consider a tragic episode: the doomed expedition of Sir John Franklin, who disappeared in 1845 along with his crew while searching for the Northwest Passage. Compare theories on the fate of the men, and see how the mystery captured the imagination of Franklin's contemporaries, helping to create a culture of adventure. x
  • 18
    Ida Pfeiffer: Victorian Extreme Traveler
    Meet Ida Pfeiffer, a Victorian women who defied expectations by traveling around the world twice and becoming a best-selling author describing her experiences. Follow her extraordinary journeys to exotic locales and learn how she deftly escaped some perilous situations - including cannibalistic Batak warriors in the jungles of Sumatra. x
  • 19
    Japan Discovers the West
    Faced with Western imperialism after 200 years of self containment, Japan discovered the West through a series of exploratory diplomatic missions abroad to America and Europe towards the end of the 19th century. Which features of Western culture did they find worth emulating? Which unfamiliar Western practices did they reject? x
  • 20
    Dr. Livingstone and Mary Kingsley in Africa
    First, consider how the most famous PR stunt in the history of exploration - journalist Henry Stanley finding ailing Scottish explorer Dr. Livingstone in a remote town in Africa - reveals how Africa long remained the "Dark Continent" to the outside world. Then, turn to Mary Kingsley, an Englishwoman whose writing revealed West Africa to a European audience. x
  • 21
    Arctic Feats and Fates
    Who was first to make it to the North Pole? Wade into the debate while examining the fascinating but lesser-known moments and figures of the race, including pilot Umberto Nobile flying a hydrogen-filled semi-rigid airship over the Pole in 1926, then crashing on a second trip, unleashing an international rescue operation. x
  • 22
    Antarctic Rivalries
    Now, focus on the race to the South Pole and the bitter rivalries surrounding it. Witness how Norwegian Roald Amundsen outdistanced his rival, English explorer Captain Robert Scott, whose return voyage took a tragic turn. Then, follow the hardships of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, whose expedition to cross the punishing Antarctic also met disaster. x
  • 23
    A Deep-Sea Dive into the Mariana Trench
    Take a breathtaking look at a historic descent into the deepest place on earth - the Mariana Trench in the Pacific - by Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh. But first, discover some of the highlights of ocean exploration in the centuries before this 1960 expedition. x
  • 24
    The Race to Outer Space
    Why have humans ventured beyond Earth? Does the future of space exploration lie with commercial interests? Is humanity's future in space? Consider these questions as you consider the past, present, and future of space exploration, starting with the moment Apollo 8's astronauts first witnessed earthrise on Christmas Eve 1968. x

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Your professor

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

About Your Professor

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Ph.D.
University of Tennessee
Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford...
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Reviews

History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 45.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Venture into the Unknown These rousing stories of heroism and egoism, adventure and peril, greed and disaster at the stuff that I loved reading about as a child. My love affair with the Age of Exploration began in my fifth grade class, where the other students and I dressed up as history’s famous explorers and created a wax museum in our school’s cafeteria. Watching “History’s Greatest Voyages of Exploration” brought me back to when I studying the voyages of Ferdinand Magellan. These figures were not only brave but intelligent men and women who all had a goal and set out to achieve it. There was a good smattering of explorers featured in this course. The best lectures are on the ones that are not as widely known as Columbus or Magellan. Some of the highlight explorers include Alexander von Humboldt, perhaps the greatest scientist explorer of all time; Mary Kingsley, an unconventional Victorian woman who introduced the British to the wonders of Africa, and Ibn Battuta, a North African muslim who traveled all over the known world from Morocco to Persia and India and back again over the course of twenty four years. The Columbus lecture is a very thought-provoking one, because Professor Liulevicius This course works best if your purchase it in the video format. There are many images that are used and the maps are particularly helpful in mapping the journey that the explorers take to reach their goal. Overall, History’s Greatest Voyages of Exploration is a fun an exciting course the shows you that the urge to move and discover is part of what makes us human. We will never cease to explore and this course shows you how and why.
Date published: 2017-05-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good series Rather than just a chronological history of exploration, this course addresses different kinds of exploration -- not just who explored what, but with what motivation and for what purpose. In some of the earlier lectures in particular, I wondered why this topic or person was included in the series, and I was 5 lectures in before this course really grabbed me. After that I really enjoyed it. The video format was helpful since it provided maps, which the guidebook did not.
Date published: 2017-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Discovering the Discoverers Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is one of my favorite TGC profs, and he has come through again with a fine example of what I refer to as a TGC “elective” – not a core course, but one that enhances what the student already knows about history. Most of us learned about the great European explorations of the 15th-18th centuries, but didn’t hear about Pytheas the Greek, Xuanzang, Ibn Battuta, or the later pioneers Alexander von Humbolt, John Franklin, or Ida Pfeiffer. Prof. Liulevicius gives us a review of old acquaintances plus many new ones, taking us through the 20th century, as humans broke barriers at the poles, under the sea, and in space. I highly recommend the video version of the course, because of the many illustrations and maps that enhance the lecture content. The handbook provides a good overview of each lecture, with suggestions for further reading. I enjoy the Prof’s easy-going presentation, and his enthusiasm for the subject. He inspired me to do further reading on the subject. (So far I’ve read the accounts of John Mandeville and St. Brendan, and have downloaded a couple more.)
Date published: 2017-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this course I have purchased over 15 courses over the years. Usually I watch a few lectures and then come back to it. This course, I finished all the lectures within about a week because they were so interesting. I loved how the professor highlighted a few lesser known explorers. Highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2017-01-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Short on important historical facts I have read many books on a number of the explorations covered in this course, so I know that this professor skipped some very important facts in these chapters. Liulevicius wastes so much time in the lectures reciting poetry and quoting Shakespear, when he should be concentrating on important historical facts. Also, he used very few graphics and maps, and the ones that he did use were really poor! Professor Liulevicius would be better served to teach liberal arts courses instead of history!!! I hate returning merchandise of any kind, but I really feel like I should send this one back for a refund.
Date published: 2016-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Presentation of Fascinating Lives This is a fine presentation of many fascinating lives and explorations. Of course not everyone could be discussed, but most of the obvious big names are here, from Leif Eriksson and Marco Polo to Columbus and Dr. Livingstone. I found the two lectures on Arctic and Antarctic explorations to be particularly fascinating, perhaps because I was least familiar with these. I was particularly sorry, however, that the great Chinese admiral Zheng He (a.k.a Cheng Ho) was given short shrift, mentioned in just a few sentences in another's lecture. He richly deserved his own. As others have noted, the level of detail is relatively basic, as is necessary for such a brief overview - 30 minutes per explorer or region. If you are quite familiar with an individual or period, you may learn little new. But for most of us, I think, the course will be informative and interesting. Prof. Liulevicius does an excellent job in most of the lectures. He is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and organized. I do wish he had avoided simplistic assessments and facile pronouncements, however. In most lectures these are only occasional, but they fill the final lecture (e.g. "To explore by choice is a great gift of freedom and answers some deep call within human nature"), making it the only one which I found pretty much worthless. The visuals on the DVD were quite interesting, but little information would be lost taking the audio. The Course Guidebook is adequate, with a brief, and briefly annotated, bibliography, but (of course) contains no timeline, glossary, or index, and very few illustrations. So - I recommend this course to all with an interest in the area, with the understanding that the subjects are chosen somewhat arbitrarily, and the level of detail and analysis is not profound.
Date published: 2016-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a fun way to explore history through the journeys presented in these lectures.
Date published: 2016-10-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great topic; poorly presented We were excited to begin this course, looking forward to detailed information about fascinating explorers. The detail was wonderful, but the lecturer's style detracted significantly from our experience. His expression, his over-emoting made this seem too much a performance. The information was valuable, but if this were a college lecture, I would have left the class and looked at someone else's notes.
Date published: 2016-10-02
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