Travelling: the Journey, the Traveller and Travel Writing

Dr Marion Kant

Travel writing as a genre has exploded in the past ten years. At the same time this is a genre without clear contours. More travel narratives populate the shelves in bookstores then ever before. We find city guides as well as novels on those shelves, adventure trips as well as politically motivated walks across war-torn lands, discoveries of nature spots in the midst of urban developments as well as discoveries of old and new spiritual places. Little unites these travel accounts beyond the desire to be sold and read. Content and form of these books are determined by the authors who all declare their method original. The most extreme approaches tell us that ‘travel writing’ does not exist – yet we are confronted with a flood of literature that claims the name. What to do?

In this course students will think about the many natures of travelling in modern times and determine whether there exists a uniting thread, a theme, a formal technique that connects the many manners of writing about travelling through space and time, physical travel as well as travelling in the mind. The course will emphasise an historical mode of observation: students will learn to place travel in the context of history and memory, they will read travel narratives of the 19th to the 21st centuries. They will then observe and record what they see themselves when they travel to particular places or events.

This is thus a course that combines theory and practice – thinking about historical theories and analysing concepts as well as planning and composing a text. Students will explore a popular form of writing and practice it in their own daily activities. The familiar will become strange and new as they return home, walk through Cambridge, visit European cities or explore places close to where they live. They will, in the process, learn about themselves; they will learn to see themselves in the mirror of the past, the present and “the other”; they will be forced to see themselves as part of a greater whole.


Teaching Methodology

The course will have two elements: 1st: reading accounts of famous novelists, writers and historians; 2nd: analysing and testing these literary models to understand their applicability today. Thus several different perspectives of what constitutes ‘travel writing’ are going to be explored.

Method of Assessment

  • Writing Exercises – Short essays (500 words) should be posted on a blog: During every class we are going to discuss one of the models and students are going to employ such models as a frame for their 500 word essay. The themes will emerge from the readings and be determined by discussions in class. Analytical discussions will be counteracted by workshops during which students present their writing. The essays or written pieces will be posted on a blog, accessible to all course participants.
  • A portfolio or final set of travel pieces will emerge at the end of the course.


Lecture hours: 12 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 15 hours)

Seminar hours: 8 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 10 hours)