A one-day symposium on texts by British tourists and travellers  

Wednesday, 9 May 2018, Room 246, Senate House, University of London



Travel narratives have long been the focus of critical, historical, and sociological analysis. The legacy of the Grand Tour, the growth of mass tourism in the nineteenth century, and the opportunities afforded by a vast empire to travel in ‘exotic’ regions have meant that British travellers, in particular, have been the object of a great deal of research. However, much of this research has focused on those travellers with the cultural capital to have their work formally published, and this in turn has perhaps skewed the picture towards narratives from upper-middle and upper class tourists.

This symposium will focus on British travellers, but with the intention of broadening the definition of travel writing to include unpublished texts written, for example, by ordinary tourists, subjects of Empire, or travellers whose purpose was medical research or social reform. Conversely it will also examine ‘unreliable’ narratives – for example, by elite colonial travellers, political or military agents, and others whose accounts are potentially compromised by official censorship or self-censorship.

The aim is to deepen our understanding not only of lower-middle class and working-class tourists and travellers, but also to interrogate the reliability of travel narratives in general, by exploring textual and travel practices that are often overlooked. These practices reveal how tourists experienced and responded to travel both within the British Isles and abroad, but also how those in the service of Empire mingled tourism with duty, and how their accounts were structured accordingly.

The experiences of the ‘tripper’ and the ‘excursionist’, on the one hand, and the servant of Empire, on the other, were arguably much more common than those of the flâneur, the famous explorer, or the Grand Tourist, yet they have been relatively under-researched and undervalued. By broadening the range of narratives under consideration to include those without the official imprimatur of a book publisher or newspaper editor, and those whose experiences were coloured by political and imperial exigency, we gain a more complex and nuanced awareness of the multiplicity of travel experiences.

This symposium will explore

  • Unedited, unmediated travel narratives and texts – manuscripts, visitors’ books, hotel registers, personal diaries and correspondence.
  • Medical, humanitarian, or campaigning travel – travel for health research, to campaign for political and social reform, ‘leprosy tourism’.
  • Unauthorised or subversive travel – trespass, illegal immigration and migration, travel to ‘forbidden zones’, travel on the margins of Empire or beyond.
  • Unreliable travel – travellers whose accounts are compromised by political expediency, national or ethnic affiliation, censorship or self-censorship.  Travellers whose identities are occluded or ignored because of their ethnicity, class or gender.
  • Migration, emigration, and professional travel narratives – forced and voluntary migration, travel as a servant of Empire, travel for the purpose of family reunion.
  • £5 Concessions (student/unwaged/retired)
  • £10 Standard


The School of Advanced Study is part of the central University of London. The School takes its responsibility to visitors with special needs very seriously and will endeavour to make reasonable adjustments to its facilities in order to accommodate the needs of such visitors. If you have a particular requirement, please feel free to discuss it confidentially with the organiser in advance of the event taking place.

Enquiries: Events Officer, Institute of English Studies, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU; Email: IESEvents@sas.ac.uk