Topics in American Literature: Travel Writing and Empire


The call to travel is often accompanied by truistic slogans. Travel may "broaden your horizons"; it might incite you to find (or lose) yourself. "It's about the journey, not the destination." Does traveling teach us about our world, or ourselves? This course begins its exploration of travel writing with a juxtaposition of several genres that are in fact talking to one another: nineteenth-century travelogues of writers like Charles Dickens and Harriet Martineau at the birth of modern tourism; slave narratives of emancipation by Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass; and stories of international border-crossing by Joseph Conrad and Mary Seacole. In each, how do conceptions of global and local change, and what does world travel disclose about shifting power relationships? Is there something formally unique about narrative in transit rather than in place? Additional readings will include Victorian travel guides paired with their modern-day equivalents in Rick Steves and Lonely Planet. We will conclude with two major reflections on empire that also happen to be contemporary travel stories themselves: W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn (1995) and Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk's Flights (2007/2018). Satisfies the Nineteenth Century requirement.
Course Attributes: EN H; BU Hum; AS HUM; FA HUM; EL NC