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October 09, 2008

Scaling Journeys

One of the main things that's been playing on my mind recently is how I'm going to structure the rest of my thesis- rather understandable given that I've just finished my first year, and my second chapter, so knowing what I'm moving onto next would be quite helpful! I've always had a general sense of where it's going, of course, but the parameters of exactly what each chapter will focus on have shifted around as I've progressed- although I'm surprised at how close to my original proposal my thesis is, in many ways, staying. My initial concept of the structure (well, the plan that got me through my first-year upgrade!) was that I'd consider journeys on an increasing spatial scale: walking journeys ; walking around cities (in England); journeys within England, by different modes of transport (not walking); and finally, journeys between Britain and Europe. A kind of outwards expansion from the small-scale travel implied by walking, to larger-scale movements across the continent (but specifically only within the continent rather than to imperialised spaces further afield).

But I think this has now shifted and the theories I'm formulating are demanding a movement through different types of transport- again starting with walking, moving onto carriage/coach journeys, before considering the monumental changes involved in railway journeys. It's still not a perfect system to divide the thesis by- what about journeys that involve more than one mode of transport, for example? But overall, this structure seems to better fit the themes that are emerging in the early stages of theorisation- a sense of different modes of embodiment and relationships to spatiality according to the type of journey, and the different material realities of movement and discourses of travel that each mode of transport entails. I think the original structuring will still have a place- walking journeys, for example, operating within regional, national, and inter-national contexts will all entail different spatial relations, but this will contribute to a theorisation that is, I hope, more attentive to the intricacies and nuances of journey spatialities. I think as well, it'll enable discussion of "scale" in its geographical sense to be discussed with a greater sense of fluidity and movement, thereby reflecting the concepts of scale I'm working with.

woman walking

Yet even with the clear-cut structure whereby different chapters focus on different journeys, there is still quite a fundamental question underlying my decisions on what to discuss: what is a journey? That is, what counts as a journey? Is every act of walking to be considered a "journey"? Nineteenth-century novels are forever telling of short walks that the characters make: from Jane Austen to George Eliot, families are always walking between the big country houses to visit their neighbours; Dickens' Londoners make numerous journeys on foot, avoiding the busy traffic of the streets. Are these all, always journeys? Are they comparable to the walks undertaken across much greater distances on the Continent- the travail of Mr Peggotty in search of his daughter, the Dorrits' ascent up and across the Swiss Alps, David Copperfield's lone wanderings around Europe? From a feminist perspective, Rebecca Solnit has argued that the shorter walks in and around England are of great significance- in novels like Pride and Prejudice walking is typically a female pursuit, "both socially and spatially the widest latitude available to women contained within these social strictures, the activity in which they find a chance to exert body and imagination" (Wanderlust, p.97). What about, then, interior walking: movement through domestic spaces? Are the "pedestrian feats" of David Copperfield's Aunt Trotwood to be considered- the woman who, when "particularly discomposed" paces up and down the room for hours at a time so that she "must have walked, at various times, a hundred miles in her uncertainty" (p.606), and thus the "amount of discomposure might always be estimated by the duration of her walk" (p.564).

As always, I suppose, it's a matter merely of interpretation as to what's regarded as important and useful for the thesis- which means careful reading and re-reading of every novel so as not to miss so much as a footstep.

October 08, 2008

London 19th Century Studies Seminar @ University of London Institute of English Studies

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The theme for the nineteenth-century studies seminars this term is "The Nineteenth Century on the Move: Mobility, Networks, Exchanges", and given the promising relevance of this title to my research, this looks to be an extremely useful and interesting series. The first seminar on Saturday 4th October certainly lived up to my expectations, with stimulating talks and discussion that provoked more ideas and suggestions for further reading than I currently know what to do with!

Saturday's seminar started off the series with a roundtable on "Thinking through mobility in the Nineteenth Century": cultural geographers Professor Tim Cresswell and Dr David Lambert from Royal Holloway, and Professor Josephine McDonagh from the English Dept. at Kings College London, each gave short presentations that offered diverse interdisciplinary approaches to the panel theme. Tim Cresswell began talking through his paper "Constellations of Mobility" (this, and the extracts of work by the other two speakers, are available on the seminar website above); the paper outlined the "new mobilities paradigm" that has emerged in recent years, raising issues with this and posing an alternative theorisation of mobility that Cresswell termed "constellations of mobility". This was an incredibly useful paper for me- I haven't yet encountered the "new mobilities paradigm" in such a form, and for all the problems of this terminology, Cresswell's analysis drew together theorisations that have appeared somewhat disparate in my research thus far, whilst introducing many new theorists that I need to read in this area. (This was for me one of those wonderful, yet slightly terrifying, moments of research when suddenly you discover an entire area that, despite being hugely relevant to your research, you had no idea existed as such...). Cresswell then worked through the inteconnecting aspects of mobility -  movement, meaning and practice - which must be considered together in order to fully understand the politics of mobility. Cresswell concluded by proposing a notion of "constellations of mobility" which accounts for the interrelatedness of movement, meaning, and practice, and the historical contexts in which they occur. I think this could be a useful terminology to work through as I develop my own theorisation of spatiality and embodiment in transit: I like the idea of "constellations of mobility" which posit journey-spaces as sites of encounter between (or constellations of) a number of factors- historicised spatial consciousness, embodied spatial experience, the material practices of movement, discursive meanings ascribed to mobility, and so on. It's a fluid, adaptable theory, as mobile as journeys themselves.

David Lambert's talk drew upon the introduction to Colonial Lives Across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth Century (edited by Lambert and Alan Lester), focusing on the imperial career of Sir John Pope Hennessy to formulate a "networked" approach to British Empire. Working against older "core-periphery" models of empire, Lambert argued for understanding the British empire as an interconnected space constituted from multiple spatial networks; rather than reading relationships between Britain and the colonies, this involves understanding the networks of connections between different colonies, exemplified in the book by studying the "imperial careering" (in both sense of the word) of British individuals through multiple imperial spaces. Whilst Lambert's study is interesting in relocating the core, binary, understandings of imperial spatiality, I was most excited to see the application of Doreen Massey's For Space in the context of travel writing, something I've been attempting in the last chapter I wrote.

Finally, Josephine McDonagh spoke on mobility and the novel, in which she addressed how (Victorian) literary scholars could productively work with ideas of spatiality and mobility- rather reassuring to hear that I'm not alone in the general aims of my thesis! McDonagh used Lefebvre's theory of spatiality as the theoretical framework for her study, in particular, Lefebvre's notion of abstract space, which McDonagh applied to characteristics of nineteenth-century literary realism to identify ways in which we can read nineteenth century "sense of place" in more particular ways than the generalised ideas of "region" and "landscape" that tend to predominate in literary studies- it was exciting to (finally!) see a literary theorist get to grips with the postmodern geographical notions of space and place, and really talk about literary places in these heavily theorised terms. Turning to mobility, McDonagh looked at how mobility is typically through a mobility/stasis binary, and proposed the need to read mobility outside of this binary- to recognise the multiple meanings and layers of mobility, and thus to better understand stasis (which is just as hard work, and as politically charged, as mobility) as a process which always involves degrees of mobility. This provoked some interesting ideas for my own work as I've recently been trying to define what "counts" as a journey in fiction in order to define the limits of my thesis- not an easy job, because even the most stationary of novels involves no end of journeys on different spatial scales.

I'm looking forward to the next two seminars, on the 8th and 29th November and in the meantime will no doubt be kept occupied with follow-up reading and research inspired by the first seminar.

September 07, 2008

"A Story of Indian Life: The Story of a Child's Life in India During the Mutiny" by Grace Ogilvie

Besides hearing about new research and meeting other people working in similar areas, if there's one thing conferences are good (or dangerous!) for, it's the book stalls. In addition to a number of journal publishers at the BAVS conference, there was also a second-hand book stall with a number of Victorian editions- which is how I came across "A Story of Indian Life: The Story of a Child's Life in India During the Mutiny" by Grace Ogilvie. I've never heard of the author before -and a bit of internet searching hasn't revealed much either, this looks like her only story and I have no idea where she's from or why/how/when she travelled to India - but when it comes to beautiful old books I have very little willpower, and was willing to part with £20 for a copy of this book. The book was published by The Religious Tract Society in London, and there's no date of publication, just a hand-written inscription inside the cover which reads "Clara A.M. Hadgrove(?). Awarded for good conduct and general improvement, June 16th 1876. Miss Lowley's (?). St Albans Place".

The book is a piece of travel writing for children, with a very simple story but interesting narration that uses many of the tropes familiar to travel writing of the period. The narrator is the aunt of the central character, a little girl named Grace Ogilvie, born in India to English parents- her father is a Colonel. The first half of the novel establishes the peaceful and idyllic life of the young Grace in the family's large white house in colonised India; the second half charts the disruption to this order with the breakout of the mutiny of 1857, forcing the family into hiding in the depths of forests, through which they travel to reach Calcutta. The flight from the Edenic land of plenty into the uncivilised wilderness of the country has clear religious parallels, and the book indeed seems to have primarily been written as an instruction book to teach young girls how to be good Christians: there is much explanation of the ways of God, the importance of prayers and Bible-reading, and the aunt-narrator figure frequently reminds Grace of her religious duty. Grace is depicted as the perfect child, good, virtuous, and with "a higher love for all things holy and good"; her teaching of Christianity to the native servants and her early death, following the suffering of illness, at the age of twelve, locate her as a saintly, even Christ-like, figure in the text who remains eternally pure and virtuous through her death. In this, the text strongly resonates with the Eva St. Clare narrative in Uncle Tom's Cabin, which similarly depicts a young girl as the epitome of religious faith, finding redemptive power in her early death.

As is to be expected from travel writing of the period the novel is imbued with colonialist discourse, constructing India as an "other" space which, by strongly contrasting with the British ideal of "civilisation", providing a testing-ground in which the ideologies of imperialism are challenged, but ultimately strengthened through this testing. This is most noticeable in the portrayal of religion; India figures in this Christian narrative as an "othered" space in which the ideals of religious purity are emphasised against a backdrop of "heathen" behaviour: Chapter 3 depicts a "frightful" festival of "heathen gods", the idols of which are "hideous, terror-inspiring creaters adored and venerated by the Hindoo". Against this "darkness" and evil, Grace's purity stands out as all the more virtuous through the contrast: the narrator notes of Grace standing next to the servants that their "dark complexions and jet-black hair formed a strange contrast to the little golden-haired fairy before them". The descent into the wilderness of the jungle is not only a religious parody but a challenge to colonial order, challenging imperial values to withstand a journey through the uncivilized jungle- in which the darkness becomes "deeper and deeper" until the tall trees are "like shades of evil". That the family come through this symbolises the ability of "Britishness" to uphold such testing (a recurrent feature of travel writing). However, the mother dies as a result of exposure in the jungle, suggesting the danger, disease and contagion associated with uncivilised spaces, as well as the weakness of femininity to withstand physical ordeal. With the exception of the narrator/aunt, only the Colonel remains alive at the end of the book, thereby re-asserting the ideal of civilisation with the white, male, British, imperial subject as the sole survivor of the trials of the book. The closing lines also reiterate the strength and importance of the family unit, with Grace's gravestone inscription joining "Grace, child of Robert and Annie Ogilvie".

There's a lot more to say about this narrative in the context of Victorian travel writing, and it provides an insightful supplement to the texts I've read thus far as it is written for children- specifically girls, as the narrative reiterates the importance of being a "good girl" several times and appeals to Victorian discourses on femininity with emphasis on beauty, purity, and the family. It would be interesting to think more about how travel writing has been aimed at children and how this goes about reinscribing colonial discourse for a younger generation.

September 04, 2008

'The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting" at Tate Britain

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Arthur Melville, An Arab Interior

It's taken me a while to blog about this so I'll just say a few words about what was a thoroughly enjoyable exhibition at the Tate gallery in London. The exhibition brought together paintings by British artists of the "Orient" - eastern Mediterranean countries under the control of the Ottoman Empire- from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, although most of the paintings were nineteenth century. A number of themes structured the exhibition: Orientalist portraits demonstrated the fashion for adopting the dress of foreign countries by travellers like T.E. Lawrence; 'genre and gender' explored the gendering of public and private spaces, although I felt this was more fully covered in the section on 'home and harem' which drew attention to female travellers who could, unlike their male counterparts, access exclusively female places like the harem. Throughout the exhibition, the informative displays and audio guides made much use of travel writing to supplement factual information- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's writing featured particularly prominently. A section on 'mapping the orient' was useful in depicting the shifting boundaries of the Ottoman Empire throughout the period covered by the exhibition, and in detailing the changes in journeys undertaken as transport developments progressed to enable easier access to the region.

August 28, 2008

Thomas Cook Archives

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Perhaps it's the dismal British weather making everyone long for far-off places, but there seems to have been a lot of travel news and events this last week or so! (I have yet to write about the exhibition I went to at the weekend too). I read this story a couple of weeks ago in the Times but have just been reminded of it online: in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Thomas Cook are opening up the company archives, offering free appointment-only tours of the collections to researchers. Thomas Cook's organised tours began in 1841, with an excursion on the railway from Leicester to Loughborough for around 500 people; the first continental tour took place in 1855. Cook played a significant part in effecting the nineteenth century shift from a notion of "travel" as an exclusive, independent pursuit to "tourism" as a mass enterprise that made travel available to many more people. Cook not only recognised the possibilities offered by transport developments like the railways, but was also instrumental in facilitating the evolution and integration of the various institutions involved in travel, establishing a network of systems to become the "leisure industry" that made tourism possible on increasingly greater scales. The archives look fascinating- guidebooks and brochures, diaries of travellers, railway timetables, films and photographs, and copies of the company's newspaper that began in 1851.

Now to find a piece of research that will take me there...

August 21, 2008

Event at the Women's Library

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Another travel-related find, this time at the Women's Library: Women Transport Pioneers in the Gaumont Graphic Newsreels (1910-1932) taking place on Thursday 11th September at 7pm. As the website says:

The Gaumont Graphic, held by ITN Source on behalf of Reuters, is a silent newsreel that played at British cinemas from 1910 to 1932. Using excerpts of footage this talk looks at some of the pioneers who changed the face of travel and transport. Women featured include actor Dorothy Jordan, aviators Amy Johnson, Mary du Caurroy and Amelia Earhart, and speed boat racers Marin Barbara ‘Betty’ Carstairs and Mrs Victor Bruce.

I might try and get to this as I've been wanting to visit The Women's Library for some time now and am attending an event in London the next day anyway. If I can take the time out from writing, I'll make a day of it with this exhibition too:

August 20, 2008

Women's Travel Writing Resources

Just come across this useful resource via the Intute blog, the University of Minnesota's digitization project Women's Travel Writing 1830-1930. The site provides access to many texts that are difficult to get hold of, and as the focus is more towards American writers* there are lots I haven't come across before so I'm looking forward to new discoveries! Particularly useful is the grouping of writers by geographic area and theme, so someone working on Mary Kinglsley, for example, can easily find other writing on West Africa. The bibliographic resources are also really useful.

*British travel writers of the period can also be found at the Victorian Women Writers Projectalthough as this is a general collection it's necessary to know specifically what travel writing you're looking for.

June 04, 2008

Forthcoming Exhibitions

This is mostly just a note to self to remind myself of a couple of exhibitions I hope to visit over the summer:

The Lure of the East at Tate Britain

and The Search for the Source of the Nile at the National Portrait Gallery. (Update: Totally missed this one due to conferences/ holidays/ general summer busy-ness!)

May 27, 2008

'Art in the Age of Steam' at the Walker Art Gallery

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This fascinating exhibition at Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery focuses on artistic responses to the development of steam trains, bringing together a wide range of art works that reveal the huge impact railways had on the landscape and personal consciousness. I've recently been collecting and studying references to the railways in Victorian novels, so the exhibition provided a useful accompaniment to this work. Many paintings captured similar themes to those expressed by novelists- fear and anxiety, excitement, a change in spatial perception and experience. The most recurrent theme was the encroachment of modernity on an older way of life; Richard Altick writes that "the very definition of modernity in early Victorian fiction might be said to have hinged on the railway", and the exhibition suggested that this statement also rings true for Victorian artists, for whom the railway symbolised "modernity". The early paintings of railways, in the exhibition's section on "The Formative Years in Europe" frequently depicted the railway in relation to the natural world, capturing the conflicting notions of promise and destruction that were bound up with the onset of modernity. Turner's "Rain, Steam, and Speed" (1844) is one of the most well-known of such paintings:

"Rain, Steam, and Speed", Turner

The exhibition brought together quite a range of paintings, from early responses through to early 20th century explorations in which the railway was often depicted in the context of the city and trains sometimes became the sole focus of paintings, a development from the tentative nature of nineteenth-century works that were unsure of the machine's suitability for artistic representation. Ivo Pannaggi's "Speeding Train" (1922) was one of the most interesting of these later explorations:

"Speeding Train", Ivo Pagganni

The exhibition also included prints and photographs that depicted the structural precision of machinery and bridges, as well as paintings that looked at the spaces associated with railways, such as the interior of compartments and stations, two new spaces that provided great interest to artists and novelists alike; in novels, carriages provide the opportunity for sexual encounters and instances of social comedy, whilst stations are spatially interesting in their negotiation of town and country, departure and arrival, as well as providing the social experience of a place in which all sorts of people are brought into close proximity. William Powell Frith's huge canvas "The Railway Station" (1862) demonstrates this in great detail:

"The Railway Station", Frith

Sections on America, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and States of Mind also featured in the exhibition. The collection offers a wonderful, insightful, look into the impact that railways have had on people, place, and art, through a rich variety of works of art from different periods of the "age of steam". I'd highly recommend a visit, although it's worth mentioning that the exhibition's website also offers an informative overview of the collection.

January 07, 2008

'Mapping the Imagination' at the V&A

"General, you make use of maps during a campaign, I believe. But why should you do so, when the country they represent is right there?"

"Mapping the imagination", the second exhibition I visited at the V&A over Christmas, brought together a wide variety of maps that aimed to challenge our notions about what a map is, with emphasis on the subjective processes of imagination and interpretation that are involved in mapping. These maps did not purport objective truths or claim a totalizing perspective on the land they represented; they were pieces of art with which to engage, provoking discussion and refusing absolute definition.

There were many wonderful maps in the two exhibition rooms, far too many to photograph and discuss, so below are just a few of the ones that particularly interested me (apologies for the poor quality of photographs- I have tried to find links to better pictures on the internet where possible).

'Pattern of the World' by Susan Stockwell, 2000

'Pattern of the World' by Susan Stockwell is a world map composed of dress-making patterns stained with tea and coffee (a close-up of Africa here). The design aims to map the effects of Britain's colonial rule, the choice of materials representing the tea, coffee and cotton trades that played a significant part in the development of the British Empire, whilst also having relevance to issues today such as fair trade and the rights of workers in clothes factories overseas. Although the map clearly conveys these ideas, it's arguably slightly problematic in depicting the entire world, of which large parts were not involved in the trades represented here or in British colonial rule in general; however, in this respect the map is arguably suggestive of the British colonial conception of the rest of the world, imaginatively, if not actually, incorporating the entire world as its own.

'Britannia', by John Ogilby, 1675

This 1675 map by John Ogilby maps a journey from London to Dover: rather than supplementing a complete map of the area with text detailing the journey, the map is a linear representation of that journey. Starting at the top left-hand corner, the reader/ traveller progresses down the first column, then up to the top of the second column, and so on across the page, ending up at the bottom right-hand corner and presumably continuing the journey at the top of the next page. The map of the journey becomes a narrative, asking to be read like a book, just as a map is a reading of the land it depicts. This rendering of the journey seems to be attempting to capture the actual, lived experience of a journey, in which it is the encounter with a single road that takes precedence, rather than the spatial positioning within a larger geography that is emphasised in traditional maps. Although the map does retain the birds-eye-view of the land, the particularities of the journey are drawn from different perspectives, therefore displacing the single, objective vision that maps ordinarily assume.

'Mount for a Lady's Travelling Fan', Anonymous, 1788

This is an unfinished design for a lady's travelling fan from 1788, decorated with a map of Southern England and Wales. Placing a map for decorative purposes on an item that is going to be used whilst travelling nicely interplays the competing notions of a map as a functional tool and as an artistic work.

The literary use of maps was incorporated with the following:

'Sketch for the endpaper of Winnie the Pooh', by Ernest Howard Shepard, 1926

This is, of course, is the map from Winnie the Pooh depicting the fictional locations of the stories. In a literary context, maps act to help the reader to imaginatively construct textual spaces, grounding textually represented spaces in a "real", material form.

'London's Kerning', NB Studio, 2006

The final map that particularly interested me was "London's Kerning", a piece commissioned by the International Society of Typographers in 2006. This map raised questions about the boundaries that maps construct by removing the lines that demarcate roads, parks, and other spaces and instead using only words to map the city (in typography, 'kerning' or 'mortising' is the process of adjusting letter spacing so that the blank spaces between each pair of letters all have a similar area). The picture shows only a small detail of the map; from a distance, the larger imagerecreates the familiar pattern of a map of London. This can be read as a mapping of spatial experience, capturing how we move across and through the open areas of a city without a sense of boundaries between different areas that the lines of a map imply. The map emphasises the road and place-names by which we orientate ourselves as we make our way around the city; the importance of names is ultimately over-emphasised in this case, and place-names are no more "real" to our sense of space than the lines of a map, but as the piece was designed for an exhibition entitled "My London/My City" it suggests that this is one way of "knowing" or making sense of the city on both private and public levels. At the same time, there seems to be a tension in the map as the proliferation of words underscores their meaning; the mass of words become commodities, producing an information over-load of which the reader is unable to make sense. It's also important to note that whilst the removal of lines initially suggests that the map is free from boundaries, scales of power operate through the typography of the words- choices of the size and width of the letters mean that some places are more visible than others, drawing attention to the power imbalances that are involved in the representation of mapping.

There were many more fascinating discoveries in the collection, several of which focused more on interior consciousness: an 1857 "map" by Richard Dadd mapped the human mind as a collection of place names, family names, states of emotion, whilst "The Birth of a Thought" mapped the workings of the human brain after the artist had spent several months as artist-in-residence at a hospital studying brain scans and operations. These pieces came closer to what would more readily be considered as art rather than maps but they contributed to the collection as a whole by highlighting the interaction between subjective consciousness and the reality of landscape that is involved in making a map. Whilst extreme in their interiority, these maps of the consciousness stressed the imaginative, interpretative, and subjective processes that are involved in the creation of any map.

The exhibition runs until 27th April and I'd highly recommend visiting if you can.

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