“Germans in the Pacific World” Examines Influence of Explorers

Man Standing By Shore I

Germans in the Pacific World, an exhibition of materials from the Library’s Special Collections & Archives, traces the trajectories of German explorers, missionaries, entrepreneurs, and others, who ventured into the Pacific to explore that ocean’s vast landmasses and numerous islands. The exhibit, which is on display in Geisel Library thru the end of spring quarter, depicts the myriad ways the German presence shaped the region’s history, and led to the creation of newly documented knowledge about the peoples, geography, fauna, and flora in and around the Pacific.

Germans in the Pacific World was curated by Professor Ulrike Strasser and graduate student Sky Johnston, of the UC San Diego History Department. The exhibit was mounted to coincide with an international symposium on “Germans in the Pacific World from the Late 17th to 20th Century,” which examined knowledge transfer from the early modern period through the 19th and 20th centuries.

Materials in the exhibit include early depictions and descriptions of California’s people, landscape, mineral riches, and animals, ranging from the first European map of the California peninsula produced in 1702, to the large atlas issued to accompany the Voyage de Humboldt et Bonpland, led by the famous German explorer, Alexander v. Humboldt.

Also included are texts and images associated with 19th and 20th century German travelers, colonialism, and racial science, as well as a volume on birds of California and the Sandwich Islands, the name given by Captain James Cook to the Hawaiian Islands. The book depicts the majestic white Pelican and other Pacific birds, which caught the attention of German zoologists and explorers.

Pelican I

Jellyfish I


California drew many German immigrants to its coast during and long after the Gold Rush. One such man, Paul Alexander, recounted his experiences and offered his views on California and its peoples in print. This volume of helpful information for prospective travelers and immigrants appeared in a series of handbooks pitched to Germans for one mark per volume. Earlier volumes included guides to Wisconsin, Argentina, and Canada, and an introduction to the English language. The Pacific coast was the new frontier. Accordingly, Alexander’s account of California was followed with a book on Oregon. As seen here, the volume was small enough for a traveler to carry on his person.

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