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The 2014 Rutherford Lectures: The Sea

Experiments Across Worlds by Dame Anne Salmond

Dame Anne Salmond is a renowned author, academic and environmentalist. She has dedicated her academic career to documenting cultural exchanges in New Zealand and the Pacific to bring about a greater understanding of New Zealand’s past.

Dame Anne presents four lectures exploring different areas of our national life – The Sea, The Land, People and Power, and Rivers – which form the 2014 Rutherford Lectures.

She explores how exchanges between different ways of being, particularly Maori and European, have helped shape our past and how they might contribute to an innovative and successful society for future generations.

2014 Rutherford Lectures: The Sea

NZ beach

In the eighteenth century, the naval charts of Captain James Cook set out a new way of looking at the sea, according to anthropologist and historian Dame Anne Salmond. Drawn from an “eye of God” perspective, they transformed the ocean, “grey or blue-green, the home of birds, fish and whales, surging with tides or currents” into a static, white, two-dimensional expanse, gridded by lines of latitude and longitude and mathematically partitioned and measured.

Near harbours or lagoons, the depth of the coastal seabed was measured, and these soundings were recorded on charts. In the process, says Salmond, something was lost: “Using instrumental observation, the blurred, shifting liminal zone between land and sea was reduced to a single line.”

Salmond argues that this process of cartographic simplification acts as a powerful metaphor for how imperial power would be exercised, remarking that “Except for scatters of islands, stretches of the Pacific were depicted as vacant expanses, waiting to be explored, charted, claimed and ruled by European power.”

In her first 2014 Rutherford Lecture for the Royal Society, Dame Anne explores in some detail the implications of two apparently benign Latin words – imperium and dominium. At the time of Cook’s voyages, the sovereignty of the Crown (or imperium) in Europe was held to extend three nautical miles from the coastline, or within cannon shot. However, property rights (dominium) could be granted within that limit, and Cook had instructions from the Admiralty to claim any new lands he might “discover” for the British Crown.

Later in the lecture, Salmond connects the recent dispute over the foreshore and seabed legislation to the difference between the Maori world view of the sea and that of Cook and his Enlightenment compatriots.

The 2014 Rutherford Lecture: The Sea will be broadcast on Radio New Zealand National at 4pm on Sunday 7 December, repeated at 9pm on Tuesday 9 December 2014. Or listen here now:

Dame Anne Salmond FRSNZ

Dame Anne Salmond supplied by RSNZ cropDistinguished Professor of Maori Studies and Anthropology at the University of Auckland

Through her many books and public appearances, Dame Anne Salmond articulates a vision for a vibrant and successful future New Zealand that harnesses our unique combination of Maori, Pakeha and other heritages.

In her work restoring native bush on the East Coast, Dame Anne leads by example in promoting the protection and nurturing of our native flora and fauna for future generations of New Zealanders. She is committed to ensuring that Maori, Pacific and low income students achieve their potential through education.

In 2004 Dame Anne received the Prime Minister’s Award for literary achievement. In 2008 she was elected as a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and the following year as a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences – the first New Zealander to achieve this double distinction. She received the 2011 KEA World Class New Zealander – Science, Technology and Academia Award. In 2013 she was recognised as the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year, and in the same year was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand’s highest research medal, the 2013 Rutherford Medal.

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