Cultural Interactions: A Comparison of "The Injured Islanders" and "Elegy on Captain Cook"

Percentage of All Cultural Interaction Markup in Each Poem indicates marked content of "The Injured Islanders" (1779) indicates marked content of "Elegy on Captain Cook" (1780) 30% 18% Affinity 24% 6% Conflict 14% 4% Trade 16% 16% Blood 15% 31% Ceremonial 24% 35% Imperial

A central purpose of our project is to study how the literature and the arts responded to new information from the Pacific, and to use computational methods to attempt to measure how literary texts reflect shifting views of the world and the place of Europeans within it due to the Pacific voyages. We begin our literary analysis with two poems published a year apart, on either side of the shocking news of Captain Cook's death in Hawaii.

In Spring 2013, our project team applied contextual encoding to Gerald Fitzgerald's "The Injured Islanders" (1779) and Anna Seward's "Elegy on Captain Cook" (1780), with attention to marking how this poetry represents cultural interactions--defined for this analysis to include all depictions of encounters of people of different cultures (whether encounters of Europeans and Pacific islanders, or encounters of different Pacific peoples). On this page we display the percentage of cultural interactions that our coding team marked in the text and annotations of the 472-line "The Injured Islanders" (1779) as compared with those we marked in the shorter, 240-line "Elegy on Captain Cook" (1780). To compare the two poems when they were first published, about a year apart, our markup and numbers are derived from an XML file we generated containing only the 1780 text of Seward's Elegy. We coded cultural interactions using the TEI element for referencing string (rs) with the attribute @type="interact." Following TEI P5 rules, these tags could only be placed inside line elements within our XML file. Since both authors' informational notes to the poems are also coded within line elements, we can quantify how much of each poem, together with its accompanying paratexts, are devoted to topics of cultural interaction based on unit lines together with the unit paragraphs of Forster's Preface.

We find that we have encoded about 32% of the Forster text as describing, addressing, or referencing "cultural interactions" in any way (a count of 152 tags in the 472-line poem). By comparison, cultural encoding accounts for about 21% of the shorter Seward text (a count of 51 tags in this 240-line poem). These percentage values only partly convey a significant difference of topic and perspective in these texts. Fitzgerald's poem is given in the voice of a Tahitian woman whose way of life has been transformed by interactions with Wallis and Cook. By contrast, Anna Seward's Elegy in lionizing Captain Cook devotes proportionally more space to experiences of sailing through polar regions in extreme weather conditions, and spends little time with any single Polynesian group or individual encountered during the voyages. We hypothesized that the two poems treat cultural interactions very differently in a way that we could measure, and that their differences are grounded in the watershed moment of the sensational news of Captain Cook's demise reaching England by early 1780.

To consider how these poems compare in their treatment of cultural interactions, we base our percent values in the graph above on the total number of cultural interactions we have coded in each text. Thus, the value of 30% of "Affinity" interactions marked in the "Injured Islanders" means that 30% of all the spans we marked as cultural interactions of any kind in this poem are related to affinity. It's important to note that in our markup a single span of text could be tagged in multiple ways, as for example, the leading of Captain Wallis to a ceremonial feast was tagged both "affinity" and "ceremonial." By representing percentages of cultural encoding, rather than percentages of total content of each poem, we attempt to reduce the factors of divergent content, so that we concentrate on comparing the two poems only on the basis of their treatment of cultural relations.

Our graph represents specific subtypes concerning conflict, bloodshed, trade, affinity, imperialism, and ceremonies, each of which were significant in some way in each poems. We have also pulled data from the @role attribute of rs, which could have "cer, blood, or sex" values. The attribute value "cer" glosses ceremonial or ritual behavior. The value "blood" marks bloodshed independent of conflict--since the poets both represented aspects of bloodshed dissociated from conflict to do with mourning. We set the attribute value "sex" to indicate references to physical sexual acts, and we have not included this in our graph only because in both poems explicit references to sex are rare or absent. We marked no @role as "sex" in the Seward Elegy, and marked it only once in the Fitzgerald poem. The two poems are strikingly comparable in downplaying sexual encounters, which seems consistent with the serious and "high" moral tone of each--as distinct from the many racy satires on Polynesian behavior generated in the 1770s. More eroticism is apparent in "The Injured Islanders," as a rhetorical lamentation by Oberea voicing a longing for Captain Wallis, by contrast with the Seward Elegy and its controlling interest in Captain Cook, whose emotional responses are directed to his crew in times of crisis. What emotional investments we see between natives and Cook in Seward's poem are framed by its funerary context, the loss of a great hero mourned worldwide by English and Polynesians alike.

What do our numbers suggest about the two poems and their treatment of cultural interaction? The most striking differences are in the rendering of conflict, with four times as much cultural interaction involving cross-cultural conflicts in Fitzgerald's poem, which devotes significant attention to warfare among Pacific islanders as an after-effect of first contact by Captain Wallis. Seward's poem treats conflict rarely, only in reference to Cook's encounters with hostile groups culminating in his death--but even so the kind of conflict discussed is substantially different, and this poem markedly downplays the complexities of intercultural tension in the Pacific. Fitzgerald also devotes substantially more attention to trade and exchange, which in our markup included exchange of cultural information as well as tangible objects. This attention to trade tends to be sharply critical of European mercantilism as a corrupting influence, an emphasis not found in Seward's poem. Full 30% of the cultural markup glossed "affinity" in Fitzgerald's poem, with its emphasis on a mutual respect and love forming between Captain Wallis and Oberea, as a source of hope to restore her lost wealth and power. Fitzgerald's emphasis on affinity extends to his notes which gloss passages in the voyage records indicating how quickly the Polynesians and English learned to communicate with each other, and the great interest taken in sharing astronomical instruments and exchanging information about religious beliefs.

Seward's poem is the more pronounced for its emphasis on ceremony and imperial interactions. Distinctive in the "Elegy on Captain Cook" is its emphasis on comparative traditions of funereal lamentation, combining Greco-Roman myth with Polynesian cultural practice. Both poems vividly cast the Tahitian use of the shark's tooth to pierce onself in mourning (coded as "blood" in each text), but Seward's devotes far more space to the "morai" to give Cook a lasting space within Polynesian tradition. The poem's content marked "imperial" was the single most frequently tagged cultural interaction in the Seward poem, far outstripping the other kinds of interactions. Imperial references in the Seward elegy frequently involved the transplanting of seeds and settling of livestock on Pacific islands, while those in the Fitzgerald poem devoted more attention to warlike behavior (in keeping with the poem's attention to conflict), and imperialism by Polynesians over other islands as well as by Europeans using weaponry and planting flags in militaristic appropriation.

These graphs only produce a partial picture, but also suggest an area of further study: the matter of whether and how Polynesian warfare is depicted in passages representing imperial behavior. We may revisit these poems and modify our markup to indicate Pacific native imperialism as distinct from European conquest, perhaps as an early coding exercise in the Fall 2013 class. The representations of islands in conflict as well as cultural diversity among islanders may be worth studying as an index of change in European depictions of the Pacific in the 1770s and 1780s, the decade immediately preceding the first intensive wave of European missionary activity in the region.