Event—Public Programming

Going and Knowing: Travelers and Travel Writers in the Modern World

In his 1841 essay Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson declares, "Travelling is a fool's paradise," for those "who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth." How can we make sense of the fact that Emerson's disavowal coincided with the invention of several technologies which increased mobility, including trains and the steam engine? Or that this era also saw the rise of the hotel in America, as well as increased mass-production of guidebooks, maps, atlases and even packaged tours after Thomas Cook began offering all-inclusive travel packages in 1841 and Baedeker's travel guides, the first mass-produced guidebook, were introduced in 1827? Drawing on the Newberry Library's vast collection of travel literature (both fictional and nonfictional), guidebooks, maps, souvenirs, and ephemera, this ACM seminar explores the history and conventions of travel and travel writing in the modern world. As we draw on the Newberry Library's collections, we're using travel as a way to think about how humans make meaning out of the world, considering why we travel and what it means to be a traveler, tourist, pilgrim, explorer, or immigrant. We're also exploring how travel-and where we choose to travel-shapes what we know and how we interact with the world around us. Clearly travel, far from being just "a fool's paradise," had more to offer than Emerson admits. Rather than viewing travel as a one-way optical adventure, it is better to understand it as a way of not only seeing but also of making sense of the world. Travelers were the original social networkers, forging connections between peoples and places while using a variety of media to share their experiences with the wider world.