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Seminar Description

Greetings from Chicago postcard

Greetings from Chicago postcard (1942).

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

Fall 2018 Newberry Seminar

Faculty Co-Directors:

  • Meira Z. Kensky, Joseph E. McCabe Associate Professor of Religion, Coe College
  • Amber Shaw, Assistant Professor of English, Coe College

Download the Fall 2018 Newberry Seminar syllabus

Following are excerpts from the Faculty Co-Directors' seminar description.


Drawing on the Newberry Library's vast collection of travel literature (both fictional and non- fictional), guidebooks, maps, souvenirs, and ephemera, the fall 2018 Newberry Seminar will explore the history and conventions of travel and travel writing in the modern world. How did the changes of the modern world affect the concept of travel itself? How did the technological innovations of the 20th and 21st centuries continue to expand our notion of the world and its boundaries (or lack thereof)?

Images are from the Curt Teich Postcard Archives Digital Collection. The archive, housed at the Newberry Library, is widely regarded as the largest public collection of postcards and related materials in the United States.

The seminar will be interdisciplinary, with its core at the nexus of literature, history, and religion, as well as engagement with newer disciplines of tourism studies and human geography. We will read theory about travel as well as writers' accounts of traveling throughout the United States, Europe, and other places around the globe. While we'll begin and end the seminar in the US, throughout the semester we'll study different modes of travel, such as immigration, pilgrimage, and the grand tour, in different places around the world and how they developed across three-and-a-half centuries.

Making meaning out of the world

As we draw on the Newberry Library's collections in this seminar, we'll use 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'll also explore how travel — and where we choose to travel — shapes what we know and how we interact with the world around us. Does traveling abroad seem to magnify a sense of belonging in travelers writing about their experiences? Does this change whether one is on a tour or a pilgrimage? And in an age where knowledge of distant places is increasingly available through digital and virtual sources, why does the urge to travel endure?

Part of our journey will be historical. The modern era saw the rise of technologies that made travel easier and more accessible than ever before. We'll look at how the mechanisms of travel changed with the invention of the railroad and the ocean liner. Having access to the railway archives will bring students closer to the excitement of the opening of the new frontier. We'll look at the widespread availability of the Baedeker and other guides and pore through some of them ourselves, asking how the way these guides present what people are going to see might have affected how they did see and experience these sites.

Postcard from 1933 Chicago World's Fair

Postcard of the Sky Ride & Observation Towers, 1933 Chicago World's Fair, aerial view of fair.

An explosion of travel writing

We'll also look at how people wrote about their own experiences in foreign and strange lands, because along with this increased ability to travel came an explosion of travel writing. How did the narratives contribute to the way people made sense of the far-off and exotic? How did these narratives of early encounters and some cases first contact shape the way readers mapped the world and their place within it? And what about different kinds of travel? How is pilgrimage different from tourism, and how do they each participate in knowledge-creation? By focusing on how travel, representations of travel, and knowledge-production change in the modern world, this seminar will explore how modes of travel differ and yet somehow share similar modes of engagement and encounter.

Immigrants at Ellis Island

Immigrants at Ellis Island, New York postcard (circa 1900-1909).

Comparing immigrant, pilgrimage, and tourism narratives

Immigrant narratives represent travel and the reasons for travel while also serving as vehicles for convincing people they are Americans; their rising popularity coincides with the rapid rise in immigrants coming to the United States post-Civil War.

Immigrant narratives offer the opportunity to look at the ways in which people imagined what America should be, and what "going home" should look like, while pilgrimage narratives offer the opportunity to look at what people thought "going to God" entailed (or even "going home to God"). Tourism narratives participate in a discourse of "being away" and also play on the idea of "going to culture."

All three of these types of literature draw on common conventions and modes of visualizing and consuming landscapes, encountering "others," and situating oneself in a multi-faceted and increasingly connected world. All the genres also share in the goal of educating an increasingly literate public, and while the travelers and reasons for travel might be different, their expected audience is not necessarily so.

These narratives reflect a common experience of travel as being one of shared yet temporary community, and the tension between the solitary traveler and the fleeting communitas recurs in all these genres. Travelling elsewhere also involves looking inward and learning more about the self, topics that frequently emerge in these texts. We will consider these many topics alongside the history of modern tourism and why people have felt — and still feel — compelled to immerse themselves in other regions, countries, or cultures.

Exploring the Newberry collections

We expect students to be working with both the secondary and the primary sources in the Newberry's general collection, along with the more specialized materials of the Edward E. Ayer and Everett D. Graff collections, the Rand McNally map archives, the Francis and Robert Tomes papers, and material from the Herman Dunlap Center for Cartography. We're particularly excited for our seminar students to have access to the Newberry's vast collection of Appleton, Murray, and Baedeker guides. The sheer breadth of this collection will reinforce the way these mass-market guidebooks changed travel in 19th and early 20th centuries. At the same time, we imagine the Newberry's collection of 17th-century letter of introduction books, as well as their considerable holdings of 20th-century journals from foreign correspondents (most notably Edward Price Bell) will broaden students' conceptions of travel and geography across the modern world.

More generally, the Newberry Library's rich collection of cartography, travel writing, immigrant narratives, pilgrimage narratives, and other travel-related documents will afford students research materials for individualized projects from a wide variety of disciplines.

Newberry Library postcard

Postcard of the Newberry Library (circa 1910-1919).

Students' research projects

The heart of the semester will be students' research projects. Our focus will invite students to think about travel, immigration, and mobility expansively — and why such a focus is necessary and productive in this increasingly digital and virtual age. Accordingly, students' independent projects can draw from the wide resources at the Newberry and consider topics about travel broadly construed.

We imagine this course would be attractive to students from a variety of disciplines, including students pursuing work in museum studies, journalism, publishing, international relations, historic preservation, and ministry. Though the seminar is firmly grounded in the humanities, because of the wide range of primary sources we'll draw upon in the seminar, we hope also to attract students from social sciences like anthropology and human geography. Students are naturally interested in travel, and the Newberry's collections are unparalleled in this regard.