Naming ‘Polynesia’: Cartography, Geography, and Toponymy of the ‘Fifth Part of the World’

Bronwen Douglas*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper is a narrative history of European placenaming in the ‘fifth part of the world’ or ‘Oceania’, focusing on the ambiguous toponym ‘Polynesia’. The ‘Southern World’ remained little known and undifferentiated in 1756 when Charles de Brosses partitioned it into the geographical regions ‘Polynesia’, ‘Australasia’ (both neologisms), and ‘Magellanica’. The term Polynesia is traced through its chameleon usages in Euro-US cartographies and geographies and shifting relationships with Australasia/Australia and Oceania, to its 20th-century global standardization to label the Polynesian triangle. The paper draws on the rich, ever-burgeoning resources of online map collections, especially in the National Library of Australia and the David Rumsey Map Collection. It also outlines the author’s forensic efforts to identify innovation, genealogy, and anachronism in the historical trajectories of the toponym Polynesia.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)375-414
    Number of pages40
    JournalJournal of Pacific History
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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