Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Melinda Knight

Committee Member

Jessica Restaino

Committee Member

Jonathan Greenberg


Captain James Cook is one of the greatest mariners and explorers the world has ever known. The writing he did on his first voyage around the world both preserved the histories of the Pacific Ocean cultures he encountered and commenced their colonization by the British Empire. Despite his limited educational background, Cook was able to achieve such fame by learning maritime skills and writing skills through literacy sponsorship and cognitive apprenticeship. When he was selected by London’s Royal Society to lead an expedition to the Pacific Ocean and around the world, it gave him a complex set of instructions that required him to write in genres that were new to him. This thesis theorizes Cook as a basic writer faced with a new and unfamiliar writing assignment and analyzes the writing he produced during his voyage through the lens of social cognitive theory. In doing so, I examine the function of his discourse community in his writing process and growth as a writer. I employ the theory of rhetorical space to analyze Cook’s ship, his site of composition, and the role it played in helping him to construct his audience and complete his writing assignment. Also, I identify a significant rhetorical shift in Cook’s writing that is commiserate with his confidence in his ability to produce ethnographic writing. As a result, I argue that the ideologies present in Cook’s discourse community and in the objects housed in his rhetorical space mediated his composition process and helped him to produce writing that was acceptable to the Royal Society.

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