Until the 18th century, the North Pacific coast of North America remained one of the last territories in the world unexplored by Europeans. As terra nullius, or land unclaimed by any Christian prince, this coastline became a coveted prize as Spanish, Russian, French, and British explorers raced to establish sovereignty on behalf of their respective monarchs. The use of symbolic acts of possession in the North Pacific and the indigenous reaction to those ceremonies has never been properly examined. Often dismissed as meaningless pageantry, symbolic acts were for centuries the principl means by which European powers established claims to territories too vast to be settled or defended militarily. By reexamining the accounts of Spanish explorers and their imperial rivals, this study reveals both the power of symbolic acts in the struggle for sovereignty and their weaknesses as ritual claiming yielded to the practical realities of effective occupation and military prowess.
Thesis (M.A.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2002
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