In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Travel Writing

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Theoretical Approaches
  • Reference Works and Resources
  • Journals
  • Editions
  • Single-Author Studies
  • Travel Writers on Travel Writing

British and Irish Literature Travel Writing
Alasdair Pettinger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0119


A minimal definition of travel writing might be any account of a journey or description of a place that is based on firsthand experience. As such, it may be found in many different kinds of text: diaries, letters, postcards, newspaper and magazine articles, blogs, essays, official reports, promotional brochures, and ethnographies, as well as travel books. Travel writing is often distinguished from guidebooks on the one hand and imaginative fiction, drama, and poetry on the other, but the term may sometimes include them, especially when discussing writings from before the 19th century, when such distinctions would have carried less weight with authors and readers. While it has long served as a vital source material by historians and biographers, travel writing rarely, even in those cultural histories documenting the “images” of or “attitudes” toward “other” races or nationalities that proliferated in the 1960s and 1970s, attracted the kind of close critical attention commonly given to literary fiction until the 1980s, coinciding with several related developments. First, there was an increasingly politicized self-questioning within literary studies and anthropology, combined with an interdisciplinary theoretical sophistication. Second, beyond the academy, there was a surge in popularity of literary travel writing, associated with authors such as Bruce Chatwin, Jonathan Raban, Paul Theroux, Colin Thubron, and others, promoted especially in the English-speaking world by Granta magazine. Within two decades, travel-writing studies could claim to be an academic discipline in its own right, with dedicated journals, textbooks, research centers, and conferences. If most of the influential early studies were dominated by anglophone critics studying anglophone texts, the field has since broadened significantly. Nevertheless, many studies of travel writing, without announcing it in their titles, continue to be largely concerned with English-speaking authors, often British. The reasons for restricting their scope in this way are rarely explicitly addressed; it is as if this is a default position for the scholars concerned rather than because “British and Irish travel writing” is a coherent object of study as such. As in many other fields, “British” is often used when “English” would be more accurate, and “English” sometimes silently includes texts that might be better described as Scottish, Welsh, or Irish.

Introductory Works

The growth of travel-writing studies as an academic discipline has generated a number of general introductions to the subject aimed at students, typically offering a combination of historical overviews and discussions of key topics such as genre, techniques of representation, narrative organization, the relationship with the reader, and the treatment of race, nation, and gender. Blanton 1997, Gannier 2001, and Thompson 2011 provide the most-approachable introductions, while Hulme and Youngs 2002, Youngs 2013, Thompson 2015, and Das and Youngs 2019 survey the field in more depth and reflect its shifting preoccupations. Most of these works acknowledge the difficulty in defining “travel writing.” Borm 2004 makes a case for a broad definition that includes fictional as well as nonfictional writing, but the decision made in Youngs 2013 to restrict it to “predominantly factual, first-person prose accounts that have been undertaken by the author-narrator” (p. 3) is more typical.

  • Blanton, Casey. Travel Writing: The Self and the World. Studies in Literary Themes and Genres 15. New York: Twayne, 1997.

    Short historical overview, focusing on “the modern travel book,” with close readings of texts by James Boswell, Mary Kingsley, Graham Greene, Peter Matthiessen, V. S. Naipaul, Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, and Roland Barthes. Includes useful list of recommended titles and a survey of critical scholarship.

  • Borm, Jan. “Defining Travel: On the Travel Book, Travel Writing and Terminology.” In Perspectives on Travel Writing. Edited by Glenn Hooper and Tim Youngs, 13–26. Studies in European Cultural Transition 19. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004.

    Argues for a broad definition of “travel writing” (or “travel literature”) to include “texts both predominantly fictional and non-fictional whose main theme is travel” (p. 13), while restricting the terms “travel book” or “travelogue” to predominantly nonfictional narratives.

  • Das, Nandini, and Tim Youngs, eds. The Cambridge History of Travel Writing. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

    The thirty-six essays here collectively showcase the latest scholarship on the genre, exhibiting historical depth and a truly global reach, extending well beyond North American and Western European authors. Includes sections that examine writings about different kinds of places, analyze a wide range of literary forms, and profile a selection of critical approaches.

  • Gannier, Odile. La littérature de voyage. Thèmes & Études. Paris: Ellipses, 2001.

    Short introduction, drawing on mainly francophone examples but tackling general issues such as the definition of travel writing, the relationship between author and reader, representation, language, and tourism.

  • Hulme, Peter, and Tim Youngs, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Fifteen essays by leading scholars in the field, arranged in three sections dealing with particular historical periods, key geographical regions, and general topics (gender, ethnography, and theory). Includes useful chronology and extensive guide to further reading.

  • Thompson, Carl. Travel Writing. New Critical Idiom. New York: Routledge, 2011.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203816240

    A concise introduction that offers a broad historical overview and discussions of major topics such as the definition of the genre, authority and veracity, representation of the self and the other, and gender. Close readings of a small group of texts by representative authors from William Dampier to Bill Bryson.

  • Thompson, Carl, ed. The Routledge Companion to Travel Writing. Routledge Literature Companions. London: Routledge, 2015.

    Forty-two essays that approach the subject from a wide range of historical, geographical, theoretical, thematic, and stylistic perspectives. Especially important for its coverage of themes (ethics, corporeality) and subgenres (guidebooks, blogs, dark tourism) that are relatively new areas of interest to travel-writing scholars.

  • Youngs, Tim. The Cambridge Introduction to Travel Writing. Cambridge Introductions to Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    An impressive condensation of a wide range of scholarship, illustrated by insightful readings of representative primary texts from the Middle Ages to the early 21st century. Reflects more-recent trends with its attention to travel writers of non-European descent and closes by identifying some emerging developments that are likely to be important in the coming decades.

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