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.
This symposium aims to provide a forum for an interdisciplinary exchange on the theme of ‘sea narratives’, looking at how the sea has figured as an important site in different cultural and geographical contexts. We are interested in how humans have interacted with the sea through trade, labour, migration, leisure and exploration; how it has figured in national contexts as a site of geopolitical control; and how it has featured in the cultural imagination as a space of danger and the unknown, but also as a source of inspiration. Derek Walcott constantly returns to the sea in his poetry, linking it powerfully with a colonial history and struggles with the difficulty of retrieving the stories it holds. The artist Paul Morstad uses old maps for his canvases, on which fantastic creatures hover over geographic boundaries, raising questions about mapping the water world. This symposium takes these varied, contested and provocative ways in which the sea has been chronicled as its beginning and invites its speakers to present their own critical perspectives.
Jon Anderson (Cardiff) ‘Exploring the space between words and meaning: knowing the relational sensibility of surf spaces’
Will Wright (Sheffield) ‘Encountering the tsunami: the sea, memory and communities of practice in south-eastern Sri Lanka’
Emma Spence (Cardiff) ‘“You can’t be on a boat and not explode when you get to land”. A study of maritime mobility in the South of France’
Michael Harrigan (Warwick) ‘Narrating the early modern French sea voyage to Asia: trajectory and text’
Elodie Duché (Warwick) ‘“A Sea of Stories”: Narratives of Capture at Sea During the Napoleonic Wars’
Barbara Franchi (Kent, ‘Travelling across Worlds and Texts in A. S. Byatt’s Sea Narratives’
The symposium will be held at the University of Warwick on Friday 24th January, at the Institute of Advanced Study. See the event webpage for full details and registration (free, including lunch, but please fill in the online form for our records).
The next seminar of the Travel and Mobility Studies research network at Warwick:
Thursday 5th December 2013, 5.15 – 6.15 in the Wolfson Reseach Exchange
‘Finitude before finitude: the case of Rousseau-Bougainville-Diderot’ Benoît Dillet (Centre for Critical Thought, University of Kent)
Tahiti is synonymous with a long history of exoticism in French thought. Soon after the publication of Bougainville’s travel accounts, it quickly became rightly or wrongly the epitome of Rousseau’s state of nature, and also led to the development of anthropology before anthropology. In this paper, I attempt to reconstruct the discussion between Rousseau, Bougainville and Diderot about exoticism and otherness, and examine the consequences of the ‘discovery’ of Tahiti for French thought at the time.
Benoît Dillet holds a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Kent, Canterbury (UK), he is the co-editor of Technologiques: La Pharmacie de Bernard Stiegler (Cécile Defaut, 2013) and The Edinburgh Companion to Poststructuralism (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming 2013).
Thursday 27th June 2013 saw the Travel and Mobility Studies research network at the University of Warwick host its first annual symposium. The day focused on the theme of “contact and connections”, thinking about the different ways in which travel produces connections, creates networks, and provides opportunities for cross-cultural, -national and -spatial points of contact. The 14 speakers across the day provided a rich, varied and insightful set of papers around these themes which made for an interesting and stimulating day.
Although the papers were diverse in their topics of focus, if there was one theme that I found threaded throughout the day it was the sense that travel practices and narratives serve not so much to connect, but rather to destabilise categories of identity, places, narratives. In the first panel “Troubled Relations”, Churnjeet Mahn (University of Surrey) looked at how the Grand Trunk Road, a major connecting route from Calcutta to Kabul, has had its history eroded through cultural amnesia, while Roxanne Bibizadeh (University of Warwick) identified how displacement can provide the opportunity for rewriting and destabilising stereotypes – in the case of Leila Aboulela’s work, of the Muslim woman; and Claire Connor (University of Bristol) identified the “crossing the line” ceremony performed on board the SS Great Britain in 1852 as disruptive moment in which the boundaries of respectability became blurred in the liminal space of the sea. In the keynote address that followed, Tim Youngs (Nottingham Trent University) raised questions about the generic instabilities of travel narratives, the lines between representation and misrepresentation, and the (perhaps unexpected) conservatism of the genre that often finds itself complicit with patriarchal imperialism.
In a panel on “Global Britain” these ideas again came to the fore. Hannah Lewis-Bill‘s (University of Exeter) discussion of tea-drinking in Victorian Britain raised issues of cultural adaptation, modification and reflexivity involved in the circulation and usage of transnational commodities, particularly tea; Mary L. Shannon (King’s College London) spoke about the cultural interactions involved in the publication of the Melbourne Punch, the “child” of the London publication, which continued to position itself within London print culture while establishing a new Melbourne print culture. Robert Wells‘ (Indiana University, Bloomington) paper also looked at the cultural absorption of foreign travel ideals in a paper on spa tourism from 1560-1760, suggesting that English spas drew on European culture while emphasising the unique Englishness of these spa resorts. The next panel, on “Late 19th Century Travelogues”, took us through various points of contact between British and foreign countries: Kate Walchester‘s (Liverpool John Moores University) discussion of British travel to Siberia looked at photographs of Sami people, reading these for the negotiations of cultural relations they reveal, and Sam Knowles considered a reading of Robert Louis Stevenson’s travel writing that argued for a more complex handling of imperialism in Stevenson’s work; Jenny Pearce (University of Hull) discussed English governesses abroad, exploring the unique and complex social position they occupied as enabling the crafting of a “third space” of cultural translation and negotiation.
The day ended with Cathy Waters‘ (University of Kent) keynote in which categories of identity again became displaced: looking at the rise of the special correspondent in the late 19th century press, Waters identified how these travelling figures found themselves in a position not dissimilar to, and often mistaken for, that of the spy. Waters explored how this fit within the reshaping of journalistic practices and late-19th century print culture, and ended by raising some indicative questions about the relationship between journalism and travel narratives, and the issues of authenticity that both foreground in their style and content.
The symposium was an excellent end to the first year of the Travel Network and it was a pleasure to host such an interesting day on the Warwick campus. Plans are currently taking shape for the next year of the Network, so I hope to be able to bring news of fruitful developments soon.
Following on from the previous Bleak Housepost, here are links and images from the Little Dorrit class this week.
We started off with some context on the 18th century Grand Tour, and these two images as indicative of the sites and ideology behind the Grand Tour. The first image is by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, who painted many Grand Tourists and this is typical of such paintings.
The travel guidebook that I showed in the lecture was a 1912 Baedeker’s Guide to Southern Italy, which I have blogged about here (and have another post on the Sardinia sections forthcoming) and there is information on the history of the guides here. I also showed this image of Cook’s tours and there’s some interesting history to the firm and you can also view some more images here.
The image of the Alps is an 1862 painting by Russian painter Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov, and I mentioned Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” (1817)as an indicative response to the Alps landscape.
The final two images of Venice and Rome are a 19th century view of Venice (anonymous) and an 1823 engraving of St Peter’s Basilica and Castel Sant’ Angelo by Rossini. In the extract on Rome, Dickens refers to “the celebrated Mr Eustace”, writer of A Classical Tour through Italy.
Finally, I have recorded a podcast about travel in Little Dorrit which is available here.