David Igler ’88 has written the new history book, The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush (Oxford University Press), the first book to combine American, oceanic, and world history in a vivid portrayal of travels in the Pacific world. He researched hundreds of documented voyages to explore the commercial, cultural, and ecological upheavals following Captain Cook’s exploits, and concentrated on the eastern Pacific in the decades between the 1770s and the 1840s.
Igler starts with the expansion of trade as seen via the travels of William Shaler, captain of the American Brig Lelia Byrd. Soon he reveals a world where voyagers, traders, hunters, and native peoples met one another in episodes often marked by violence and tragedy. Some of his accounts tell how indigenous communities struggled against introduced diseases that cut through the heart of their communities; how the ordeal of Russian Timofei Tarakanov typified the common practice of taking hostages and prisoners; how Mary Brewster witnessed first-hand the bloody “great hunt” that decimated otters, seals, and whales; and how James Dwight Dana rivaled Charles Darwin in his pursuit of knowledge on a global scale.
In an article about Igler’s book on Verso, the blog of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, Matt Stevens writes: “Igler has made excellent use of the rare books and manuscripts at The Huntington, but he came to appreciate all the material that tends to fall outside the definition of ‘special collections’—that is, published journals and other reference materials that occupy the general stacks.
“ ‘Whenever I was jotting down notes at The Huntington,’ says Igler, ‘I would often stop and look up a source. Sure enough, the book was here, and I would go grab it. So being on site was instrumental to my ability to complete my book.’ ”
Igler is associate professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. His books include Industrial Cowboys: Miller & Lux and the Transformation of the Far West, 1850–1920 and The Human Tradition in California.