IAS Travel and Mobility Studies Network Conference
Friday 11th July 2014
Key-note address: Professor Miriam Cooke, Duke University
Guest speakers include Professor Haideh Moghissi and Professor Evelyne Accad
Call for Papers
In recent years, discussions of travel narratives have examined the creation of the diaspora, highlighting themes of loss and exile using the centre-periphery framework. This symposium seeks to develop discussions through a focus on feminism in travel narratives, examining how centre-periphery discourses are complicated, challenged, subverted, or reinforced through gendered accounts of migration, ethnicity, identity conflicts and political connections. The Symposium will explore how migration and diaspora formations are gendered to develop a centre-periphery narrative which juxtaposes traditional and conventional discourses often associated with the marginalised experience. Questions to be addressed include: how does travel through forced or voluntary migration create new opportunities to liberate or oppress women? How do women of different socio-cultural and historical locations/parameters formulate their relationship to feminism? We also invite papers to reflect anew on the “centre” and “periphery”. Where (if anywhere) are they located and what is at stake in mapping these spaces today? What does peripheral status imply? How can we re-imagine the centre-periphery dynamic for the current age?
The organisers invite proposals for 20 minute papers which seek to respond, but are not limited to the following topics:
• Multifaceted journeys with(in) feminism
• Geographies of diasporic spaces
• Geographies of feminism
• Transnational feminism
• The transnational exilic and migratory experience
• Body politics in the diaspora
• Forced migration and displacement
• Pedagogies of crossing
• Political mobilisations
• Labour and the economics of migration
• Dismantling stereotypes of the Muslimah
• Debates on Islamic Feminism
• Historiography of third world feminism
Please send 250 word proposals by Friday 25th April 2014 to firstname.lastname@example.org
Further information will be added to the conference website in due course.
2 new book reviews in the next issue of Studies in Travel Writing: Juliet Johnston’s Victorian Women and the Economies of Travel, Translation and Culture, 1830 – 1870, an interesting exploration of the interrelations between translation and travel that highlights women’s work as translators in the nineteenth century; and Kathleen McCormack’s George Eliot in Society: Travels Abroad and Sundays at the Priory, an insightful new account into the social activity, at home and abroad, of Eliot’s later years.
Today is the 202nd birthday of Charles Dickens, and has been marked by the unveiling of a statue of the author in Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square. The statue has attracted attention not just because of the on-going interest in Dickens since his bicentenary, but also because it’s marked by a degree of controversy over whether it should have gone ahead. Dickens’s will indicated his wish that no such public memorial be constructed of him:
“I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious and strictly private manner…that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial … I conjure to my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial or testimonial whatsoever. I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works.”
It’s a pretty clear statement of the author’s wish not to be remembered in this public way either immediately after his death, or at a future time. In an article on the BBC about “why was Dickens’s dying wish ignored?“, one relative suggests that his words above have been taken out of context, and it is implied that if he could have foreseen his popularity, he may have felt differently about memorialisation. However, Dickens’s statement in his will reflects similar feelings that he expressed upon the memorialisation of Shakespeare. In 1863-4, Dickens was involved with the Shakespeare Tercentenary Committee, one of the aims of which was to raise funds for a memorial to Shakespeare: Dickens was not in favour of building a statue, however, maintaining that “his best monument is his works”. It’s a sentiment that resonates throughout his reflections in his will, which similarly asks that his published works remain the focus of his legacy and remembrance.
Whether or not it should have gone ahead, the statue is fitting in the context of Dickens’s cultural legacy in the last couple of years. For a start, the statue seems to keep in mind the importance of his literary legacy, depicting Dickens sitting atop a pile of books* and holding one half-read: this is Dickens the reader not writer, situating him, like us today, as consumer of his works. And the work of locating Dickens in statue form draws together several strands of contemporary interest. As I’m currently writing about in a piece on neo-Victorian spaces, place has played a central role in the growing popularity of all things Victorian in recent years. The tangible presence of the Victorians in our urban spaces today – in buildings, streets, and public spaces dating to the Victorian era, and in the lasting legacy of the Victorians’ own place-making processes - is often cited as one facet in the contemporary appeal of the Victorians over other historical periods. And in Dickens 2012 in particular, there was a repeated recourse to the places of his life and literature that shaped many of the bicentenary activities. It seems fitting then that Dickens’s memory is, literally, located as part of this neo-Victorian geography, the statue creating a tangible physical presence of Dickens’s place in a cultural landscape in which location so often features as a mode through which to make sense of the relationship between past and present, and the interactions between life and literature, that have been at the forefront of contemporary preoccupations. If nothing else, the statue is a fitting memorial to the forms of memorialisation that have been prominent since 2012, and a reflection of what Dickens 2012 meant as part of a longer trajectory of Dickensian celebrations and memorialisations.
*Are these his books? I can’t find out, or tell from the photos, if the books are inscribed with Dickens titles.
The latest meeting of the Midlands Interdisciplinary Victorian Studies Seminar, at the University of Nottingham on 16th January, explored the theme of Victorian Masculinities. Holly Furneaux’s (University of Leicester) keynote on gender and care in the Crimean War started the day, seeking to overturn the narrow popular and academic focus on Florence Nightingale’s role in the Crimean War to look at the work of male solider orderlies on military wards. Through a range of diaries and accounts of the war, Furneaux presented a fascinating and complex picture of the gendering of solider orderlies: forging emotional connections with one another, performing physical acts of care, and undertaking typically feminine arts of embroidery and quilting, all contributed to a vital reassessment of military masculinity.
Male bodies were the theme of the second panel. Lisa Coar (University of Leicester) spoke about the ‘mania’ for athletics and sport among Victorian boys and men, a trend which shifted over the course of the century – physical excess through exercise was initially encouraged but later came under attack. Jo Parsons (Bath Spa University) looked at another form of extreme physicality, the fat male body of Count Fosco in Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White; Fosco’s fat positions him as a feminised figure, and Parsons explored various ways in which his corpulent body and food tastes complicate gendered binaries. Ruth Ashton’s paper also focused on demasculinisation in the context of disability in Dinah Craik’s work where, despite the dominant mid-century discourse of physical disability and injury as demasculinating, Craik presents disability as a liberation from social expectations.
In the afternoon, we heard from Desiree de Chaire (University of Warwick) on Princess Louise’s Boer War memorial, exploring forms of imperial patriotism, and contrasting modes of masculinity represented in the Boer memorial with typical monuments of soldiers. Harry Cocks (University of Nottingham) revisted the idea of character as a mode through which to investigate masculinity, covering ideas of self-determination in the context of the rise of liberalism. Ayla Lepine’s (University of Nottingham) paper on gothic masculinities focused on the Society of St John the Evangelist, and particularly interesting was Lepine’s use of John Plotz’s ideas around portability as a mode of understanding art and cultural formations in the period. Ross Balzaretti (University of Nottingham) looked at a sub-genre of travel writing, that of ‘wanderings’, suggesting that this is both distinct from other forms of pedestrian travel – rambles, for example – and a particularly masculine space of travel discourse. My paper on sunburnt travellers in the Victorian novel generated some interesting questions and suggestions which I’m looking forward to following up, so thanks to those in the audience for a positive response.
Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.
Derek Walcott’s poem “The Sea is History” was one of our starting points for the symposium on Sea Narratives organised as part of the Travel and Mobility Studies Network at Warwick. When we formed the idea for this symposium, we hoped to create an interdisciplinary forum that would generate multiple and intersecting perspectives on the rich histories, geographies, and narratives of the sea. We were certainly not disappointed, and the 6 speakers that presented throughout the day provided a fascinating array of insights into the places, practices, and politics that shape the sea.
“The sea is geography,” Jon Anderson began by asserting, and one of the central narratives of the day was a move towards understanding the sea not as the “perfect and absolute blank!” of Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark, but as a distinctly varied sea-scape: just as land-space is differentiated into regions and places, so too is the sea comprised of multiple constellations of lived and experienced geographies. Imagine an inverted map of the world, where land becomes sea and vice versa, the latter now distinguished by mountains, valleys, rivers, forests, marked by routes of humans and animals, and variegated by clusters of social, cultural and economic activity; for many people, historically and today, the sea is experienced in just this way. Far from being the space-between points of departure and arrival, the sea here became re-centred as a site of activity, production and narration.
This came out richly in Will Wright’s (University of Sheffield) paper on sea, memory and community in south-eastern Sri Lanka, where the centrality of the sea to the everyday life was demonstrated most memorably in maps by local people delineating a distinct geography of the seascape, and quotes exemplifying a sense of oneness between self and sea. Wright’s research explores the impact of the 2004 tsunami, and he spoke about how the tsunami had disrupted this interrelation, but also that the sea played a vital role in memorialising and moving on from the after-effects of its destruction.
The everyday, embodied encounters that Wright spoke about were also the subject of Jon Anderson’s (University of Cardiff) paper about understanding the human geographies of the sea, which took surfing as its focus for exploring the connectivity between body and sea-spaces. Anderson posed the question “can only a surfer know the feeling?”, and in an evocative short film explored ideas around the affective knowledge of surfing as something beyond language or representation – as opposed to, or at least differentiated from, the ways in which surfing is represented, and commodified, to audiences through media and advertising. I was struck in Anderson’s paper by the idea of an embodied knowledge of the sea as relating to theories of embodied mobility posed by Tim Cresswell and others, and especially the unique feeling Anderson described of the effect of “combustion-free speed” in surfing; I spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between speed, space and bodies, and the mobility of surfing seems to both evade and encapsulate these themes.
These ideas resonated throughout Emma Spence’s (University of Cardiff) paper exploring maritime mobility in the context of luxury superyachts in the Mediterranean. Spence talked about the cultures of luxury yachting and particularly the experience of yacht crews, where she had conducted ethnographic research among crew members. Bodies were present here again, this time in the context of sea-sickness – another sea-experience that can only be known through feeling not description, although images helped evoke the extent of sea turbulence. What came out strongly in Spence’s paper was the gendering of sea cultures: the crews on superyachts strongly reflect historically gendered patterns of sea experience, the sailing crew comprised almost exclusively of men while the domestic interior crew are always female. This reflected and reinforced traditional gender patterns of understanding or knowing the sea – there was a sense, in some of the interview reflections, of the sailing crew being more readily at home or better understanding the patterns and movements of the sea. Gender was also resonant in Wright’s paper on cultural negotiations with the sea in Sri Lanka – where surfing and fishing are considered unfeminine – and in Anderson’s discussion of surfing, again heavily inflected by masculinist discourse of travel and adventure.
The language of the sea was another resonant theme throughout the day. Many metaphors are inspired by the sea (we drift away, float an idea) and yet it is near-impossible to talk about the sea without resorting to land-based language (to foreground, for example). The afternoon session took us further into ideas of narrating the sea. In Michael Harrigan’s (Warwick) paper on early modern French sea voyages to Asia – focusing on Jean Mocquet & Francois Pyrard’s accounts of 1617 and 1619 - I was especially struck by Harrigan’s noting of the punctuality in the written accounts of the voyages that plot, with exacting detail, the time and location of events described. This precision of chronology and space resonated with earlier discussion of the distinct geographies of the sea, a sense again that, far from the sea being experienced as a blank open space, there was here a similar impulse to narrate and map sea-spaces through known coordinates as a way of making sense of places.
Elodie Duché’s (Warwick) paper looked at narratives of capture at sea in the Napoleonic Wars, exploring the experience of capture and captivity in accounts by prisoners of war. Duché’s paper showed the aptness of the phrase “a sea of stories”, demonstrating how there is no one common type of capture narrative, but that certain tropes can be discerned within accounts: a narrative of sentimental separation from the sea, for example. Duché also highlighted how certain narrative conventions structure these texts, which are informed by obligations such as the duty of record-keeping and the need to write to families at home. Barbara Franchi’s (University of Kent) discussion of sea narratives in A.S. Byatt’s work looked at the influence of Victorian narratives of imperial sea navigation in her works Angels and Insects and The Biographer’s Tale. Franchi’s paper was a fitting finale to the theme of the symposium, drawing out the rich intertextuality of narratives of the sea from the myth of Ulysses to more recent imperial adventure narratives.
I found this to be a rich and stimulating day of discussion, generating many more thoughts than we managed to explore in the course of the sessions. At the end of the day I was drawn back to a passage from Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways, in a chapter which reflects on a journey along an old sea road; I first read this a few weeks ago and it resonated all the more strongly after the papers we heard yesterday, so seems a fitting point on which to end here:
We think of paths as existing only on land, but the sea has its paths too, though water refuses to take and hold marks… Sea roads are dissolving paths whose passage leaves no trace beyond a wake, a brief turbulence astern. They survive as convention, tradition, as a sequence of coordinates, as a series of waymarks, as dotted lines on charts, and as stories and songs. ‘… as by Line upon the Ocean [we] go,’ wrote John Dryden of English navigators in the 1660s, ‘Whose paths shall be familiar as the Land.’ Along these sea paths for thousands of years have travelled ships, boats, people, objects and language: letters, folk tales, sea songs, shanties, poems, rumours, slang, jokes and visions.
These, then, were waters in which the geological and the theological mingled, zones in which ‘metaphor and reality merged one into the other over time’…
(Macfarlane, The Old Ways, pp. 88-96)
A storify of tweets from the day is available here.
The programme for the next Midlands Interdisciplinary Victorian Studies Seminar is now available, taking place on Thursday 16th January at the University of Nottingham. The theme is Victorian Masculinities and I’m presenting a paper titled “‘A brown sunburnt gentleman’: the travelling male body in Victorian literature”. By happy coincidence, I’m presenting a (longer) variation of this paper the day before, Wednesday 15th January, at a research seminar at Nottingham Trent University. The research looks at the return of male travellers from hot climes, focusing here on Woodcourt’s return in Bleak House to examine the class, race and gender implications of his becoming ‘a brown sunburnt gentleman’. This is drawn from work in my current book which I’m starting to extend in a couple of new pieces that will develop these ideas further.
The edited collection Gender and Space in Rural Britain, 1840-1920, which I have co-edited with Gemma Goodman, is now finished and off to the printers, ready for publication in March. In the meantime, the introduction and index are available free online now.