Eighteenth-Century Travel Writing
Accounts of “foreign” peoples, their social systems, and environments written from the point of view of protagonists who traveled outside England, Great Britain, and Western Europe, were vital to the novelty, creativity, and popularity of literary writing across the eighteenth century. We will read ethnographic prose, particularly natural histories, to see how traveling tales (as well as reports and images circulated by travelers both to and from England) contributed to the making of the English literary tradition as well as long-standing racial and cultural stereotypes (the noble savage, Asiatic luxury and despotism, Caucasian beauty). In doing so, we will also attend to these cultural forms as the building blocks of colonial discourse, that is, the representation of racial, cultural, and religious differences in ways that furthered British territorial and commercial expansion. We will be reading excerpts from several key texts of philosophy and natural history, as well as select travel writings, given that travelers’ observations supplied the empirical facts of “Enlightenment” knowledge systems. We take as our premise the interrelation of cultural and species distinctions, plantation slavery, settler-colonialism, environmental exploitation, and the global circulation of commodities between the East and West Indies. To this end, examples of visual and, to a lesser extent, material culture will be featured throughout the semester, alongside core literary texts that explore colonial relations in the Americas. Readings will include Thomas Hariot (Virginia); Louis Le Comte (China); Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (Turkey); Linnaeus (Lapland); Briton Hammon (Florida, Cuba, Jamaica). Master's degree candidates and submatriculated undergraduates should request permission to join.