Age of Exploration

Explore five centuries of journeys across the globe, scientific discoveries, the expansion of European colonialism, new trade routes, and conflict over territories.

This impressive multi-archive collection focuses on European, maritime exploration from the earliest voyages of Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, through the age of discovery, the search for the ‘New World’, the establishment of European settlements on every continent, to the eventual discovery of the Northwest and Northeast Passages, and the race for the Poles.

Bringing together material from twelve archives from around the world, this collection includes documents relating to major events in European maritime history from the voyages of James Cook to the search for John Franklin’s doomed mission to the Northwest Passage. It contains a host of additional features for teaching, such as an interactive map which presents an in-depth visualisation of over 50 of these influential voyages.

  • Captain Cook's secret instructions, ships' logs and journals from three voyages of James Cook, written by various crew members and Cook himself which related to early British Pacific exploration and the search for Terra Australis
  • Detailed accounts of John Franklin's first two attempts to find the Northwest Passage as well as several documents related to his lost expedition and subsequent rescue attempts
  • De varietate fortunae liber IV, an important account from around 1500 of the travels of Nicolo de Conti, who travelled in the East for more than twenty-five years
  • Sino-Spanish Codex (Boxer Codex) - this beautifully illustrated document describes countries and peoples bordering the China Sea - especially Japan, China and the Philippines - and is an important piece on early encounters
  • Documents relating to figures such as Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh and Martin Frobisher which highlight a fascinating period of early British exploration and forays into privateering and piracy.

Key data

Period covered


Source archives

  • American Philosophical Society
  • Bibliothèque nationale de France
  • British Film Institute
  • British Library
  • Glenbow Museum
  • James Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota
  • Lilly Library, Indiana University
  • Massachusetts Historical Society
  • Newberry Library
  • The Explorers Club
  • The National Archives, UK
  • Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand
  • Expedition planning, financing and sponsorship
  • Ships and provisions
  • New commodities and trade
  • New territories
  • Ports, forts and entrepôts
  • Competition
  • Life at sea
  • Indigenous people and early encounters
  • Navigation, scientific observations and instruments
  • Personal and family life
  • Diaries, journals and ships’ logbooks
  • Printed and manuscript books
  • Correspondence, notes and ephemera
  • Scientific papers, surveys, reports and government documents
  • Publicity and newspaper clippings
  • Maps and charts
  • Artwork, photographs and objects
  • Film footage and audio
  • Stephanie Barczewski, Clemson University
  • José Damião Rodrigues, Universidade de Lisboa
  • Imre Demhardt, University of Texas Arlington
  • Amy Fuller, Nottingham Trent University
  • John Gascoigne, University of New South Wales
  • Andrew Lambert, King's College London
  • Marguerite Ragnow, James Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota
  • Benjamin Schmidt, University of Washington
  • Philip Stern, Duke University
  • Glyn Williams, Queen Mary, University of London
  • African Studies
  • Australian and New Zealand Studies
  • Communities, Peoples and Nations
  • Cultural Studies
  • Ethnic and Indigenous Studies
  • European Studies
  • Great Britain, Republic of Ireland and Northern Irish Studies
  • Migration and Border Studies
  • North American Studies
  • South Asian Studies
  • Interactive map
  • Biographies
  • Contextual essays
  • Visual galleries
  • Map gallery
  • Interactive chronology


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