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History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration

Follow in the footsteps of history's most ambitious and influential explorers from antiquity through the space age in this captivating course taught by a top-rated professor.
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 103.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Tour of Exploration This is a first rate tour of key exploration milestones from antiquity to the modern area. The professor is engaging and selects a very nice sample of travels from different ages to illustrate his overall course theme. It both reinforces your knowledge of better know voyages, like Marco Polo, while also introducing the viewer to important, but lesser-known travels. Great overall.
Date published: 2024-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing insights, stitching the past together! I found this course very compelling. Really drew a picture of how exploration overtime built one event upon another. Additionally, how choices made by nations over time have implications on the world we live in today. I would highly recommend this course!
Date published: 2024-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating History of Exploration I have enjoyed quite a few Wondrium lecture series, but none more than this one. The project was well organized and the material presented with relish -- and sometimes humor. I will now look for other series by Prof. Liulicivius.
Date published: 2023-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well done! I thought that the lectures were fascinating and well documented.
Date published: 2023-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So good I didn't want it to end I've watched dozens of Great Courses and this was one of my favorites. Each episode was well done and held my interest throughout. I learned a lot of names I didn't know and a lot of history I didn't know. Will seek out more courses from this professor.
Date published: 2023-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gripping story telling I just finished the course on History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration. Liulevicius is a gripping story teller. He really gets across the deep human yearning for exploration and discovery in so many different contexts. My favorite Great Course yet!
Date published: 2023-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely informative & interesti Not only did the 24 lectures carry you through the history of exploration and the professor explain the importance/impact of each expedition, but he also references back to past lectures and links motivations and causes and effects from each explorers point of view. Wonderful series and I would love to see more from this professor
Date published: 2023-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gripping beginning to the end Absolutely amazing lecture series… not just “the explorers” we learned about in school. Packed with great stories you’ve never heard before.
Date published: 2022-11-24
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Discover the awe-inspiring tales of the world's most influential explorers. From ancient wayfarers to modern astronauts, intrepid individuals bound the continents together, connected isolated peoples, and sparked a cross-fertilization of ideas, technologies, and even foods. Follow history's adventurers to the frozen Poles, Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa, the ocean's depths, and the final frontier of space.


Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

To study the deepest impulses in human nature, we see the lure of wealth and conquest, the deep-seated urge for fame and glory, the quest for higher ends, a basic human determination.


University of Tennessee

Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Professor Liulevicius has won many awards and honors, including the University of Tennessee's Excellence in Teaching Award and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. At the university he teaches courses on modern German history, Western civilization, European diplomatic history, Nazi Germany, World War I, war and culture, 20th-century Europe, nationalism, and utopian thought. Dr. Liulevicius has published numerous articles and two books: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I and The German Myth of the East, 1800 to the Present.

Professor Liulevicius participated in The Great Courses Professor Chat series. Read the chat to learn more about diplomacy and war

By This Professor

Turning Points in Modern History
A History of Eastern Europe
The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration
The Secret World of Espionage
Communism in Power: From Stalin to Mao
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration


The Earliest Explorers

01: The Earliest Explorers

Begin your study journey with the Vivaldi brothers' ill-fated journey to India. What drove the brothers-or drives any explorer-to take a risk and venture into the unknown? Consider that question as you look at theories on how the Pacific islands became populated starting with an epic movement 7,000 years ago.

32 min
The Scientific Voyage of Pytheas the Greek

02: The Scientific Voyage of Pytheas the Greek

Meet the originator of scientific exploration, who trekked to the edge of the world so that he could see for himself what was there. Put Pytheas the Greek in the context of his time and place, sketching the Mediterranean as a cradle of civilization and examining how word of his voyage influenced later exploration.

31 min
St. Brendan-The Travels of an Irish Monk

03: St. Brendan-The Travels of an Irish Monk

Consider religious motivations for exploration. Men like the Irish monk St. Brendan-who sailed the Atlantic in a tiny leather boat-sought God and fled the world's corruptions, some searching for paradise and some merely for seclusion. Examine how legendary re-workings of such real adventures left a surprising legacy that would affect later exploration.

29 min
Xuanzang's Journey to the West

04: Xuanzang's Journey to the West

Alarmed at inconsistencies in the Buddhist texts available to him, Xuanzang embarked on an illegal holy pilgrimage to acquire authoritative teachings. See how, in the process of the monk's travels, he brought Buddhist traditions to the Confucian Chinese, achieved celebrity status, and became the central character in the greatest classical Chinese novel.

30 min
Leif Eriksson the Lucky

05: Leif Eriksson the Lucky

While the story of Leif Eriksson and the Vikings is relatively well known, Professor Liulevicius takes you deeper into the question of why the Vikings, or Norsemen, explored, as evidenced by their broader culture of adventure and values that pressed them onwards in often violent ways.

31 min
Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville

06: Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville

Although traders had traveled the Silk Road since the Roman Empire, there was little awareness of what existed at the other end-until Marco Polo's accounts of China opened Europeans' eyes to a mysterious, advanced civilization. Start with background on the medieval world, then look closely at Polo's travels and legacy.

31 min
Ibn Battuta-Never the Same Route Twice

07: Ibn Battuta-Never the Same Route Twice

Examine the life and legacy of Ibn Battuta, who left Morocco in 1325 to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, but discovered a craving for spiritual travel and returned home 24 years later after covering 75,000 miles in the network woven by Muslim civilization.

30 min
Portugal's Great Leap Forward

08: Portugal's Great Leap Forward

How and why did tiny Portugal, a poor country, take to the seas, round the continent of Africa, hijack the Indian Ocean, and create a global empire? Find out here, with a look at Portugal's rise to superpower status, from Prince Henry the Navigator's call for exploration to Vasco da Gama's successful voyage to Asia.

31 min
The Enigmatic Christopher Columbus

09: The Enigmatic Christopher Columbus

Understand the complexities of Christopher Columbus who, in stumbling upon the Americas while attempting to reach Asia by heading West, touched off the massive Columbian Exchange of peoples, plants, commodities, and diseases. Dispel enduring myths, and explore Columbus's religious motives for launching what he called "The Enterprise of the Indies."

30 min
Magellan and the Advent of Globalization

10: Magellan and the Advent of Globalization

Follow the path of Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, whose expedition in service of Spain became the first to circumnavigate the world, inaugurating our ability to think globally and accomplishing what Columbus had promised to do-reaching Asia by sailing west from Europe. See how his journey bound together the world economy, creating consequences down to our own times.

30 min
The Ruthless Ambition of the Conquistadors

11: The Ruthless Ambition of the Conquistadors

Consider the most brutal of explorers, the conquistadors-Spanish military entrepreneurs including Cortés, Pizarro, and de Soto, who were not directly controlled by the monarchy, but royally sanctioned to seize wealth and lands in the New World. How did they topple civilizations using only a handful of men? What impact did they have on native societies? Find out here.

29 min
Henry Hudson-Death on the Ice

12: Henry Hudson-Death on the Ice

Switch gears from voyages of fruitful discovery to a tragic failure ending in mutiny, murder, and a mystery that endures to this day: Henry Hudson's 1610 voyage in search of the Northwest Passage to Asia, funded by two of the first multinational corporations.

30 min
The Jesuits on a Global Mission

13: The Jesuits on a Global Mission

Founded in 1540, the order of the Jesuits used global cultural exploration as a means to proselytize to local cultures across the world, from India and China to the Americas. Examine their controversial method of inculturation, and place the Jesuit project in the context of a larger intellectual shift towards cultural relativism.

30 min
Captain Cook Maps the World

14: Captain Cook Maps the World

Look closely at Captain Cook, an explorer who in many ways epitomized the age of scientific discovery, which lauded exploration for the sake of knowledge. See how his methods and voyages embodied new attitudes toward foreign peoples, and why it's what Cook didn't find that helped give us the complete world picture we have today.

30 min
Alexander von Humboldt-Explorer Genius

15: Alexander von Humboldt-Explorer Genius

Learn how the scientific explorer Alexander von Humboldt-sometimes called a "second Columbus"-taught us to see the world as an interrelated ecological unit. Trace his five-year exploration of the Americas with French botanist Aimé Bonpland, in which they covered 5,950 miles and catalogued 6,300 species of plants and animals.

30 min
Jefferson Dispatches Lewis and Clark

16: Jefferson Dispatches Lewis and Clark

On President Jefferson's (originally secret) orders, the U.S. Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to chart the new territories gained by the Louisiana Purchase, while recording its people, flora, and fauna. How did they cross Native American-occupied lands peacefully? What was the expedition's political significance? Find out here.

29 min
Sir John Franklin's Epic Disaster

17: Sir John Franklin's Epic Disaster

Consider a tragic episode: the doomed expedition of Sir John Franklin, who disappeared in 1845 along with his crew while searching for the Northwest Passage. Compare theories on the fate of the men, and see how the mystery captured the imagination of Franklin's contemporaries, helping to create a culture of adventure.

30 min
Ida Pfeiffer-Victorian Extreme Traveler

18: Ida Pfeiffer-Victorian Extreme Traveler

Meet Ida Pfeiffer, a Victorian women who defied expectations by traveling around the world twice and becoming a best-selling author describing her experiences. Follow her extraordinary journeys to exotic locales and learn how she deftly escaped some perilous situations-including cannibalistic Batak warriors in the jungles of Sumatra.

30 min
Japan Discovers the West

19: Japan Discovers the West

Faced with Western imperialism after 200 years of self containment, Japan discovered the West through a series of exploratory diplomatic missions abroad to America and Europe towards the end of the 19th century. Which features of Western culture did they find worth emulating? Which unfamiliar Western practices did they reject?

30 min
Dr. Livingstone and Mary Kingsley in Africa

20: Dr. Livingstone and Mary Kingsley in Africa

First, consider how the most famous PR stunt in the history of exploration-journalist Henry Stanley finding ailing Scottish explorer Dr. Livingstone in a remote town in Africa-reveals how Africa long remained the "Dark Continent" to the outside world. Then, turn to Mary Kingsley, an Englishwoman whose writing revealed West Africa to a European audience.

30 min
Arctic Feats and Fates

21: Arctic Feats and Fates

Who was first to make it to the North Pole? Wade into the debate while examining the fascinating but lesser-known moments and figures of the race, including pilot Umberto Nobile flying a hydrogen-filled semi-rigid airship over the Pole in 1926, then crashing on a second trip, unleashing an international rescue operation.

29 min
Antarctic Rivalries

22: Antarctic Rivalries

Now, focus on the race to the South Pole and the bitter rivalries surrounding it. Witness how Norwegian Roald Amundsen outdistanced his rival, English explorer Captain Robert Scott, whose return voyage took a tragic turn. Then, follow the hardships of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, whose expedition to cross the punishing Antarctic also met disaster.

30 min
A Deep-Sea Dive into the Mariana Trench

23: A Deep-Sea Dive into the Mariana Trench

Take a breathtaking look at a historic descent into the deepest place on earth-the Mariana Trench in the Pacific-by Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh. But first, discover some of the highlights of ocean exploration in the centuries before this 1960 expedition.

30 min
The Race to Outer Space

24: The Race to Outer Space

Why have humans ventured beyond Earth? Does the future of space exploration lie with commercial interests? Is humanity's future in space? Consider these questions as you consider the past, present, and future of space exploration, starting with the moment Apollo 8's astronauts first witnessed earthrise on Christmas Eve 1968.

31 min