The initial idea behind the exploration session ‘New Directions in the Cultural History of Travel, Mobility, and Transculturality’ organized by Dr Eva Johanna Holmberg (Helsinki & QMUL) and including the discussants Dr Liesbeth Corens (QMUL), Dr John Gallagher (Leeds), and Dr Mark Williams (Cardiff) was to discuss recent developments in, some long-term frustrations with, and suggestions for new avenues in a research field that could be broadly termed ‘cultural history of travel and mobility’. To put it polemically, we wanted to make people think beyond elite men gallivanting in their educational pursuits or collecting art on the Grand Tour and include not just the vast amounts of people who made the Grand Tour possible by their labour but also those who ventured to the world of travel outside its framework.
New emergent research themes and interests could include not just the different modes and contexts of mobility but also take into account a wider range of experiences, including the darker sides of mobility, the restrictions put on it, and the constant flow between travel and return, looking at stasis and mobility in conjunction. This, we hope would centre the experiences, encounters and practices of a greater variety of travellers from different genders, social backgrounds and motivations, and encourage us all to explore travel and mobility exploring richer archives and equipped with richer contextual lenses. Approached in this way, the history of travel would include mobile people whose trajectories were far from the voluntary, able-bodied, or linear of its usual suspects.
In the discussion at the conference we called for more research on travels that ‘went wrong’ or prompted unexpected reactions ranging from the emotional pleas from reluctant peregrinants to those who encountered grief, illness, and conflict whilst on the move. The session participants and the discussions that followed our brief outlining of potential themes prompted everyone to think of new ways to explore travel, including its many ‘afterlives’ and impact on societies, including the shaping part played by non-human animals and material cultures.
Eva Johanna Holmberg, Liesbeth Corens, John Gallagher and Mark Williams