Journeys to Authority: Travel Writing and the Rise of the Woman of the Letters

Deadline: May 1, 2015

Special Issue of Women’s Writing

CFP Link

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and important ‘knowledge genre’ from which women were largely excluded (although of course many women produced private, unpublished accounts of travels in letters and journals).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, we seek 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.

Articles (of 5-7,000 words) should be submitted to Carl Thompson by May 1st 2015. Any queries or initial expressions of interest should also be directed to Carl. Articles must be written in English, although we welcome contributions relating to non-Anglophone travel writing.

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