Dana Jr. : “Two Years before the Mast”

In 2015, the “Smithonian” Magazine introduced the American Classic Novel “Two Years before the Mast” of Richard Henry Dana Jr.1

The journey of Richard Henry Dana Jr aboard the Pilgrim, which he wrote in his memoir Two Years Before the Mast, is a story of self-discovery, adventure, and life at sea. Dana was born into a well-educated family and began to study at Harvard, but he became sick on measles. Determined to find a cure, Dana embarked on a life-changing voyage as a sailor, trading his scholarly robes for the rugged garb of a seaman.

Dana’s memoir is a vivid and authentic account of his experiences ‘before the mast’, a term referring to the common sailor’s quarters below the main deck of a ship. His narrative takes readers on a journey through the treacherous waters of the South Atlantic, around Cape Horn and into Alta California, then part of Mexico. The primary purpose of the Pilgrim’s voyage was to obtain cattle hides from ranchers along the Californian coast, giving readers an insight into the maritime trade of the time.

Throughout his journey, Dana immerses readers in the daily realities of life on board, from the gruelling physical labour to the camaraderie of the crew. He masterfully describes the awe-inspiring beauty of the sea, the terrifying power of storms and the harsh discipline enforced by the ship’s captain. Dana’s keen powers of observation and evocative prose bring to life the sights, sounds and emotions of life at sea, captivating readers with his raw authenticity.

In California, Dana embraced the challenges of his environment, mastering the art of handling heavy skins and immersing himself in the local culture. He vividly recounts his experiences, from attending cockfights to tasting traditional dishes such as frijoles. Dana’s observations provide valuable insights into the social and cultural landscape of Alta California, offering readers a glimpse into a bygone era.

Upon his return to Boston, Dana was transformed both physically and emotionally by his experiences. He became an advocate for the rights of sailors and marginalised communities, using his legal expertise to defend fugitive slaves and promote social justice. His memoir, Two Years Before the Mast, became a literary sensation, influencing generations of readers and writers with its candid portrayal of life at sea and its enduring themes of resilience and self-discovery.

Dana’s influence extended far beyond the pages of his memoir, shaping the works of renowned authors such as Herman Melville. Melville, inspired by Dana’s authentic portrayal of maritime life, sought to infuse his own masterpiece, Moby-Dick, with a similar sense of realism. Dana’s influence can also be seen in the characters of later American literature, from Mark Twain’s Huck Finn to J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, who embark on journeys of self-discovery reminiscent of Dana’s own odyssey.

In conclusion, Richard Henry Dana Jr’s Two Years Before the Mast is a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today. Through his gripping narrative and keen observations, Dana offers a compelling glimpse into the world of 19th-century seafaring and the transformative power of life at sea. A testament to the enduring spirit of adventure and the pursuit of truth, his memoir has inspired generations of readers with its timeless themes of resilience, self-discovery and social justice.

  1. Malanowksi, Jamie (2015): Before Moby-Dick, There Was “Two Years Before the Mast”, in: Smithonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/before-moby-dick-there-was-two-years-before-the-mast-180955766/ [Last Access: 25.1.2024] []

An unusual sunrise: Maori Art and Culture at the Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin – article of 2014

In this blogpost, I have summarized an article of the german “Tagesspiegel” of 19.11.2014, which was written by Nicola Kuhn about the exhibtion of the Maori paintings of Gottfried Lindauer.1

In the early hours of a grey November day, an extraordinary ceremony began at the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Led by Patu Hohepa, a Maori kaumatua, an impressive press conference launched a spectacular exhibition.

The exhibition features portraits of Maori leaders by Gottfried Lindauer, a painter largely unknown in our art history. Originally from Pilsen in the Czech Republic, Lindauer emigrated to New Zealand in the 19th century and dedicated himself to portraying the indigenous people of what was then an endangered culture.

His detailed and respectful depictions of Maori culture have a vibrancy and dignity that is still impressive 150 years later. Lindauer’s respectful portrayal won the respect of the Maori, who commissioned him to paint portraits of themselves and their ancestors.

In the Alte Nationalgalerie, two worlds collide, a collision that encourages us to change our perspective and see the connection between cultures. The exhibition offers a new perspective on Aotearoa New Zealand’s indigenous culture and shows how interconnected our world is.

The exhibition also brings some of the artist’s spirit back to Europe. It is a moving moment that underlines both the importance of artistic heritage and the deep spiritual connection between Maori and their ancestors.

The Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin is hosting this exhibition as a tribute to Maori culture and as a memorial to an artist who captured this culture in his paintings. A fascinating glimpse into a world that inspires us to think differently and reminds us that art knows no boundaries.

  1. Maori-Porträts in der Alten Nationalgalerie, in: Tagesspiegel, https://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/der-tatowierte-geist-8113012.html, [Last Access: 11.12.2023] []

The vocabulary of a whaling voyage

In the total institution such as a ship, persons were owed little. Role and rule were owed everything.

Dening, Greg (1980): Islands and Beaches, Discourse on a Silent Island Marquesas 1774-1880, Honolulu, p. 159.

The Pacific historian Greg Dening described the life onboard of ships to be quite distinctive. The whaling sector, a distinct component of the maritime realm, possessed its own set of guidelines and regulations regarding the employment and living conditions.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum has described and summarized the most relevant aspects of this industry1 just follow this URL and enjoy reading!

  1. Life aboard, in: new bedford whaling museum, https://www.whalingmuseum.org/learn/research-topics/whaling-history/life-aboard, Last Access: 30.11.2023. []

Aotearoa New Zealands election 2023

In view of the upcoming elections of in Aotearoa New Zealand, the interpreter has published a little comment of the current political situation.1 This blogpost offers a little summary of it.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s 2023 election is shaping up to be one of the most divisive in recent memory, with significant policy differences between the incumbent Labour Party and the opposition National Party. Key issues at stake range from economic policy and fiscal responsibility to Māori rights and cultural identity, creating a uniquely polarised political landscape.

Economic policy clash

Under the banner of ‘In it for you’, Labour has proposed a broad agenda, including extending free early childhood education to two-year-olds, providing financial benefits to working families and offering free dental care to those under 30. While these policies appeal to many, they come at a significant economic cost. Aotearoa New Zealand’s national debt has risen from $5 billion to over $100 billion in the last four years under Labour.

In contrast, the National Party’s ‘Let’s get New Zealand back on track’ campaign promises to cut government spending, cancel some of Labour’s projects, support the agricultural sector, encourage private enterprise and tackle rising gang violence. Their vision includes disciplined spending, lower taxes, less debt and robust fiscal buffers to withstand future economic shocks.

Co-governance controversy

Co-governance has emerged as one of the most divisive issues in this election. National’s Christopher Luxon is strongly opposed to co-governance, while some of Labour’s coalition partners, such as the Greens and the Māori Party, favour a statutory power-sharing arrangement that would give them a permanent seat in government. This proposal challenges democratic norms and is seen by some as a potential Māori takeover. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ vague alternative of ‘mahi tahi’ or working together has failed to reassure most voters, according to the polling data.

Cultural and linguistic debates

The possible renaming of New Zealand to ‘Aotearoa’ has become another contentious issue. Activists and even some television presenters have embraced the use of Aotearoa, while others oppose the change, arguing that it is not racist to use “New Zealand”. This debate highlights deep cultural and identity divisions within Aotearoa New Zealand society.

Reparations and deadlines

National’s Luxon has set a deadline of 2030 to resolve long-standing Māori community claims for reparations for past wrongs. Despite efforts to resolve these claims, they continue to pile up, with billions of dollars at stake. The issue of reparations remains complex and divisive.

Election dynamics

In the final week of the campaign, polls show National leading with 35.8% support, with Labour trailing on 26.8%. The Green Party, with just over 12%, and the Māori Party, with 2.8%, have significant influence. In addition, Aotearoa New Zealand First’s Winston Peters, a political figure, could once again determine the balance of power with his party’s 5.7% support, potentially forcing National into a coalition arrangement.


Aotearoa New Zealand’s 2023 election is a unique and divisive political moment, characterised by stark policy differences, deep-seated ideological clashes and cultural debates. The nation is at a crossroads, with voters facing critical choices about economic direction, Māori rights, cultural identity and the future of their political landscape. The outcome of the election will shape Aotearoa New Zealand’s trajectory for years to come, reflecting the diverse views and values of its citizens.

  1. Parker Selwyn: New Zealand elections: Working together or co-governance?, in: The Interpreter, 11.10.2023, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/new-zealand-elections-working-together-or-co-governance, Last Access: 12.10.2023. []

Summary of the article: “Archivbericht Neuseeland” – 2009

Almost 15 years ago, in 2009, the german archive journal “Archiv, Theorie & Praxis – Zeitschrift für Archivwesen” of North-Rhine Westphalia had published a general overview and introduction of the Aotearoa New Zealand archive system. You can find the article as a .pdf here under this URL online in german language.1

Heusterberg, Babette: Archivbericht Neuseeland, in: Archiv, Theorie & Praxis – Landesverband NRW, 62, 2, 2009, p. 176-182.

With this blogpost, I would like to offer you a brief summary in English language of the article: Archives are an essential part of preserving and providing access to historical records and cultural heritage. The authors explores the archival landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand, with a particular focus on the National Archives /Te Rua Mahara o te Kawanatanga. The article provides an overview of the history of archives in New Zealand, the current state of archives, and the various initiatives that Archives New Zealand has undertaken to improve its services and increase access to its collections.

The history of archives in New Zealand:

The history of archives in New Zealand dates back to the early colonial period, when the first government records were created. However, it was not until the late 19th century that a formal archival system was established. The National Archives of New Zealand was started in 1957 and changed to Archives Aotearoa New Zealand in 2003.

Current state of archives in Aotearoa New Zealand:

The archives in Aotearoa New Zealand are classified into three primary categories, namely government archives, private archives, and community archives. Archives New Zealand is responsible for preserving and providing access to the records of the New Zealand Government and other records of national importance. Then the author describes the various functions of Archives Aotearoa New Zealand which includes appraisal, acquisition, preservation, and access. The article also discusses the obstacles faced by Archives Aotearoa New Zealand, including the limited resources and the necessity to balance access with privacy concerns.

Archives New Zealand initiatives:

Archives Aotearoa New Zealand has undertaken numerous initiatives recently to improve its services and increase access to its collections. These initiatives include the digitisation of records, the development of online finding aids and the creation of partnerships with other institutions. The article also discusses the various outreach programmes that Archives New Zealand has developed to engage with the wider community, such as school programmes and public exhibitions.

Digitisation of records:

Archives Aotearoa New Zealand has undertaken a significant digitisation programme to make its collections more accessible to researchers and the public. The digitisation programme includes the scanning of records, the creation of digital finding aids and the development of online databases. The article notes that while digitisation has many benefits, it also presents challenges, such as the need to ensure the long-term preservation of digital records.

Online finding aids:

Archives Aotearoa New Zealand has developed a range of online finding aids to help researchers navigate its collections. These finding aids include online catalogues, indexes, and guides to specific collections. The article notes that these finding aids have greatly improved access to Archives Aotearoa New Zealand’s collections, but there is still work to be done to ensure that they are comprehensive and up to date.

Partnerships with other institutions:

Archives Aotearoa New Zealand has developed partnerships with other institutions to increase access to its collections and promote the importance of archives. These partnerships include working with museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions. The article notes that these partnerships have been successful in raising awareness of archives and creating new opportunities for research and engagement with the wider community.

Outreach programmes:

Archives Aotearoa New Zealand has developed a range of outreach programmes to engage with the wider community and promote the importance of archives. These programmes include school programmes, public exhibitions and online resources. The article notes that these outreach programmes have been successful in raising awareness of archives and creating new opportunities for engagement with the wider community.

Challenges and future for archives in Aotearoa New Zealand:

Despite the many initiatives undertaken by Archives New Zealand, there are still challenges that need to be addressed to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of New Zealand’s documentary heritage. These challenges include limited resources, the need to balance access with privacy concerns, and the need to ensure the long-term preservation of digital records. The article concludes by calling for continued investment in archives and greater collaboration between archives and other cultural institutions to ensure that Aotearoa New Zealand’s documentary heritage is preserved and made accessible to future generations.

  1. Heusterberg, Babette: Archivbericht Neuseeland, in: Archiv, Theorie & Praxis – Landesverband NRW, 62, 2, 2009, p. 176-182. []
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