Travel Writing in an Age of Global Quarantine

Travel Writing in an Age of Global Quarantine

Publication information

  • Title: Travel Writing in an Age of Global Quarantine
  • Published by: Anthem Press (2021)
  • Category: Academic, contributor
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I contributed a chapter called “A Rude People Subject to No Constraint” to this collection of terrific essays on travelling and revisiting travels . My chapter was about the Tanimbarese culture hero, So’u Melatunan, the legacies of colonialism in East Indonesia, and the naturalists Henry and Anna Forbes.

Travel Writing in an Age of Global Quarantine is an anthology of travel accounts, by a diverse range of writers and academics. Challenging conventional academic ‘authority’, each contributor writes, from memory during the Covid-19 lockdown, about a place they have previously visited, ‘accompanied’ by an historical traveller who published an account of the same place. As immobility is forced upon us, at least for the immediate future, we have the chance to reflect. Travel Writing in an Age of Global Quarantine presents opportunities to approach a text as a scholar differently. We break with the traditional academic ‘rules’ by inserting ourselves into the narrative and foregrounding the personal, subjective elements of literary scholarship. Each contributor critiques an historical description of a place about which, simultaneously, they write a personal account.

The travel writer, Philip Marsden, posits a fundamental difference between traditional ‘academic’ writing and travel writing in that travel narratives do not, or ought not anyway, begin by assuming a scholarly authoritative understanding of the places they describe. Instead, they attempt to say what they found and how they felt about it. The very good point we think Marsden makes, and the one this book tries to demonstrate, is that, as a matter of form, the first-person narrative has the ability to expose the research process: to allow the reader to see when and how a scholarly transformation takes place; to give the scholar the opportunity to openly foreground their own subjectivity and say ’this is the personal journey that led me to my conclusions’; to problematize the unchallenged authority of the scholar.

Travel Writing in an Age of Global Quarantine challenges the idea of scholarly authority by embracing the subjective nature of research and the first-person element. We address a problematic distance between travel writing practice and travel writing scholarship, in which the latter talks about the former without ever really talking to it. Defining travel writing as a genre has often proved more difficult than it might seem, but Peter Hulme has suggested that it is ethically necessary for the writer to have visited the place described. Hulme asserts that ’travel writing is certainly literature, but it is never fiction’. If this seems obvious, Travel Writing in an Age of Global Quarantine asks the reader to consider the idea that if visiting the place described is necessary for the writer to claim they have produced a travel account, might it also be necessary, or at least advantageous and valuable, for the writer of a scholarly critique of that account to have done the same.

What Are People Saying?

This captivating collection of personal, historical essays engages in a dialogue with the past through the shared experience of travel. Evocatively written, Travel Writing in an Age of Global Quarantine raises questions about the relationship between time, space and belonging. Written in the context of lockdown due to the global pandemic, the authors grapple with the meaning of travel for themselves and the worlds beyond the locality that they are now prohibited from entering or passing through.

— Onni Gust, Professor, University of Nottingham