“Journeys to Authority: Travel Writing and the Rise of the Woman of Letters”
The late eighteenth century saw the emergence of the woman travel writer. Prior to this, travel writing was a prestigious and important ‘knowledge genre’ from which women were largely excluded (although of course many women produced private, unpublished accounts of travels in letters and journals). In the wake, however, of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s acclaimed Turkish Embassy Letters (1763), women began to publish travel accounts in ever-increasing numbers. By the 1840s, indeed, the travelogue had arguably become a staple form for a new generation of ‘women of letters’ such as Harriet Martineau and Anna Jameson, and women continued to publish extensively in the genre throughout the Victorian period.
This was a development welcomed by some contemporaries, decried by others. Chauvinist commentators saw women’s increasing incursion into this intellectually significant genre as devaluing the form. Where travel writing had traditionally offered useful knowledge and substantive contributions to contemporary debate across a range of disciplines, the female-authored travelogue, it was alleged, necessarily took the genre in a more lightweight, literary direction, offering only trivial or dilettante observations. Modern scholarship has often unwittingly endorsed this attitude, assuming that women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were excluded from contemporary networks of scholarship and knowledge production, and accordingly identifying many female-authored travelogues as principally exercises in the sentimental and picturesque. As Megan Norcia has recently written, ‘women simply have not been written into the history of geographic travel, and when they do appear, it is as genteel travellers rather than geographers’; and the same tendency can be observed in many other disciplines and discourses, including anthropology, sociology, political economy and natural history.
For a Special Issue of Women’s Writing on women’s travel writing before 1900, the committee seeks articles, which explore the rise of the woman travel writer and interrogate the assumption that she was excluded from contemporary networks of knowledge production and intellectual authority. Topics might include (but are not limited to):
- The extent to which female-authored travelogues were intended and received as contributions to knowledge and scholarship;
- The forms of knowledge and cultural commentary articulated in women’s travel writing, and the forms of authority, which could accrue to women through these texts;
- The participation of women travellers in wider intellectual communities and networks;
- The part played by women travellers and travel writers in the emergence of disciplines like geography, sociology, botany, art history, literary criticism and political economy.
Articles (of 5-7,000 words) should be submitted to Carl Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) by May 1, 2015. Any queries or initial expressions of interest should also be directed to Carl. Articles must be written in English, although the committee welcomes contributions relating to non-Anglophone travel writing.