War, travel, travel writing

What got me in to the work on war that has preoccupied me for the last ten years or more was an interest in travel and travel-writing.  I spent several years on European and American travellers to Egypt in the long nineteenth century between the Napoleonic invasion of 1798 and the First World War.  Inspired by Edward Said‘s Orientalism, I wanted to move the discussion away from the canonical texts that had caught Said’s attention to more mundane diaries, travel writings and guide books, together with sketches, paintings and photographs, made by travellers and tourists as they struggled to find the terms for a culture and a landscape for which most of them had no terms.  I was particularly concerned to move beyond the texts and to think about the bodily encounters,  changing transactions and material landscapes that emerged in the course of a ‘scripting’ of Egypt for modern tourism.

My original intention was to bring all this together in a book to be called Dancing on the Pyramids, and one bright September morning, on the brink of a rare sabbatical leave, I was at last ready to write.  I switched on the TV and watched a plane fly into the World Trade Center.  In the days and weeks that followed, it seemed impossible to seek refuge in past: and yet, as I watched events unfold, I realised that many of the formations that I had identified in the nineteenth century were being reactivated in the shadows of 9/11, in the United States and in Britain, and in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq.  That journey produced The colonial present and, while I’m still determined to return to Dancing one day, I simply haven’t been able to leave war (past and present) alone.


So I was particularly interested to receive via the war @ media network, hard on the heels of my last post, news of an interdisciplinary conference at the University of East Anglia on 29 November 2014 on War, travel and travel writing:

Some of the oldest Western texts – Homer’s epics or Herodotus’s Histories – combine the experience of war with encountering foreign people and places. For combatants, the protracted nostos, or homecoming, is as much part of war as was the journey to a faraway battlefield. For civilians, deportation, evacuation, expulsion and displacement are often deeply traumatic. For those observing military conflict, travelling through a war zone can be exhausting, exhilarating or exasperating. For those merely travelling around or above it, it can be just as fatal as we have seen in regards to MH017. Conditions of war also produced the kind of document now officially used for identification – the passport.

This interdisciplinary conference broadly examines all manner of issues relating to war and travel, and more specifically issues relating to the representation of war and travel in the fields of museum studies, literature, psychology, theatre, military history and war studies, ethnography, gender, film, media, and others.

Keynote Speakers:

Professor Tim Youngs is the director of the Centre for Travel Writing Studies at Nottingham Trent University and the founding editor of Studies in Travel Writing. He has written or edited nine books, mostly on travel writing, among them Beastly Journeys: Travel and Transformation at the Fin-de-Siècle (2013) and The Cambridge Introduction to Travel Writing (2013).

Dr Muireann O’Cinneide (National University of Ireland, Galway) is the author of Aristocratic Women and the Literary Nation, 1831-1867 (2008) and has published on narratives of the First Afghan War, on Victorian travellers’ bodies, and on class, authority and the reception of knowledge in women’s travel writing.

Possible Topics/research questions:

• Travel writing about war / war writing about travel.
• Gender, travel and war.
• The role of the war reporter/foreign correspondent.
• International organisations (Médecins Sans Frontières, the UN, the Red Cross, Crescent, Crystal).
• Museums and wars in foreign places.
• Forced travel, trauma and the aftermath of war.
• The encounter with the other: enemy, alien, “native”.
• “Foreign experience” in expansionist imperialist practice, military recruitment and war propaganda.
• The effect of digital media on the representation of war and travel (blogs, Twitter, social media sites, e-journalism, war games).

The conference is organised by Petra Rau (UEA) and Kate McLoughlin (University of Oxford). Please email 300-word abstracts by 20th September 2014 to P.rau@uea.ac.uk, specifying the conference title in the subject line.



I wonder, too, about contemporary ‘war tourism’, so-called ‘dark tourism‘ (who doesn’t?  see my previous post in relation to Israel/Palestine here), and about journals like Sassoon’s…  Having recently returned from a brief tour of the battlefields of the Western Front around Ypres, I’m reminded that at least one Edwardian traveller down the Nile thought it remarkably strange to spend one’s leisure time visiting tombs and cemeteries…