New exhibit explores Northwest coast history and climate change

Sept. 28, 2015

TACOMA...In a renewal of their long-standing partnership, the Washington State History Museum and the Anchorage Museum in Alaska present an exhibition on James Cook’s Third Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, opening at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma on October 17, 2015.

As the principal goal of Cook’s voyage was to search for the navigable passage assumed to exist between the Pacific and Atlantic across the top of North America, the main focus of Arctic Ambitions is on the North Pacific, the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Cook and his companions not only mapped much of the American coastline for the first time, but also encountered different groups of native peoples, in most cases establishing first contact. Arctic Ambitions explores this survey of the coast and these encounters.

In addition, Cook’s experience in the Arctic is used as a lens through which to look at the Northwest Passage today which, due to the rapid melting of sea ice, is becoming navigable for longer periods of time each year. The material draws parallels between the legacy of Cook’s “opening” of the Northwest Coastand Alaska and global warming’s “opening” of the Arctic, with its implications for aboriginal cultures, resource exploitation, the need for credible charts, and the complex issues surrounding sovereignty.

This 5,000-sq. ft. exhibit and its complementary programming makes a unique contribution to our understanding of the earliest recorded history of the Northwest Coast of America and Alaska and, in addressing climate change in the Arctic in the context of the Northwest Passage, demonstrates the relevance of that history to the present-day.

“Arctic Ambitions is full of rare objects such as Cook’s journal written in his own hand and artifacts made by Northwest Natives brought home from six countries for the first time in over 200 years,” explains Redmond Barnett, Head of Exhibits at the Washington State History Museum. “It tells the story of the economic and political struggle of Cook’s voyage, and climate change from 1778-80, through the eyes of both Native Americans and Europeans.”

On opening day of the exhibit, Harry Stern, contributor to the book Arctic Ambitions and a specialist on polar ice will provide a presentation and a hands-on demonstration about the properties of polar ice vs. freshwater ice. Additional programming during the run of the exhibit includes living history characters in the popular Ghosts of the Great Hall field trip program and transportation assistance grants for schools booking field trips to the History Museum before March 1, 2016. Additional programs as they are developed can be found at

The curator is Robin Inglis, a Fellow of the Canadian Museums Association and former Director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum and the North Vancouver Museum and Archives. An experienced exhibit curator, he has lectured and written extensively on the subject of early exploration along the coasts of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

The exhibition was designed by the Storyline Studio of Seattle and features as many as 300 original items––models, navigational instruments, charts, maps, manuscripts and pieces collected from Native Americans encountered during the voyage––borrowed from museums, libraries, archives and private collections in England, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. The Museum Store also offers an extensively illustrated companion book organized by historian David Nicandri with essays by today’s leading scholars in the relevant fields of history, anthropology, and science.

For more information on Arctic Ambitions, logon to