‘Strictly speaking, there was no such thing as “the Pacific” until in 1520-1 Fernao de Magalhãis, better known as Magellan, traversed the huge expanse of waters, which then received its name.’
With these opening words, Oskar Spate launches his account of the process by which the greatest blank on the map became a focus of global relations. The Spanish Lake describes the essentially European and American achievement of turning this emptiness into a nexus of economic and military power.
This work is a history of the Pacific, the ocean that became a theatre of power and conflict shaped by the politics of Europe and the economic background of Spanish America. There could only be a concept of ‘the Pacific’ once the limits and lineaments of the ocean were set and this was undeniably the work of Europeans. Fifty years after the Conquista, Nueva España and Peru were the bases from which the ocean was turned into virtually a Spanish lake.
Oskar Spate was born and educated in England where he completed a doctorate at the University of Cambridge in 1937 on the development of London. After the Second World War he combined lecturing in England with writing a regional geography of the Indian sub-continent.
In 1951 he took up the post of Foundation Professor of Geography in the Research School of Pacific Studies at The Australian National University, a position he held until 1967. From 1967 to 1972 he was Director of the Research School of Pacific Studies, ANU, and in 1972 moved to its Department of Pacific History.
Throughout his career, Oskar Spate published a wide diversity of papers and essays on such subjects as the geography of Europe, South Asia and Australia and the exploration of Australia and the Pacific. Upon his retirement in 1976, he devoted most of his energies to researching and writing his three-volume history The Pacific since Magellan.