Historical influences on Travel Writing?
One of the sections in this chapter discusses the historical significance of travel writers. Do you have a historical author who inspired you to travel? Who are your travel writing influences?
Topic: For me, I am a personal fan of Julius Caesar. I can remember sitting in my high school Latin class reading De Bello Gallico for the first time and wondering what his impressions of the Gaelic people were. While the book primarily discusses his strategies on war, his impression of the Gaelic people caught my eye. I couldn’t help but wonder what strange people they thought the Romans were and how the Roman Empire greatly influenced the changes in Gaelic life. Maybe I was just a nerd or just really bored, but I would write stories even then about the people, their culture, and ways of life through the eyes of a nomadic traveler and conquerer.
Given my political leanings, this may be totally surprising to you, but I really find many of the cronicas of the explorers and members of the clergy who came to the Americas as part of the colonial enterprise. When I read these for my PhD program, I was surprised by how many of these accounts completely subverted my expectations about what I thought they’d be: condescending in tone and largely ignorant (and desirous of staying that way) about the people amongst whom the writers were living.
Instead, I found these rich, detailed narratives that–all things considered–often conveyed far more nuance and complexity than I’d anticipated. And all the impulses that prompt people to write travel narratives now were definitely present in those accounts. Though they were often written for official purposes, usually to send back as “progress reports” to the king and/or the church, they’re fascinating anecdotes that have become an important part of the historical record–and an important, if overlooked, part of the history of travel writing (which is why we made mention of them in this chapter!).
The first travel book I ever read was “In Patagonia” by Bruce Chatwin, and I loved it. Although now I can barely recall what it was about.
More recently, however, my favorite is Farley Mowat’s “Bay of Spirit.” Mowat wrote this book about his 1950 journeys by boat around the southern coast of Newfoundland, particularly the area where I grew up. The funny thing is, not much has changed…there’s a million little coves, beaches, and forgotten settlements that still exist and are waiting to be explored. I wanted to quit my job, buy a boat, and follow suit. Read Mowat! He’s hilarious to boot.