Published in collaboration with the Royal Society of London in 1697, William Dampier’s A New Voyage Round the World was the most popular and influential travel account of the first half of the eighteenth century. Yet despite the astonishing success of New Voyage within commercial, literary, and scientific spheres, Dampier’s style of composition became an easy target for satire. These vituperative and long-lasting critiques emphasized the awkwardness of Dampier’s method, but they also suggest the immense stakes of his project. Probing the limits of representation, Dampier was involved in a much larger process than he realized: he was transforming how knowledge, nature, and experience could and should be related in narrative. In this essay, I study the narrative problems and complexities of New Voyage, and place them in the context of the reforms in travel writing (and, more broadly, in knowledge production) that were occurring in the final decades of the seventeenth century. I view the text as a literary and scientific document that in its narrative fissures illustrates a particular moment in the history of two increasingly incompatible systems of knowing that developed in tandem in the travel genre: the static, ostensibly objective description of nature (what Dampier refers to as “Places”) and the dynamic account of individual experience (what Dampier calls “Actions”).

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