Rethinking the Grand Tour conference success

Posted by the conference organiser, Sarah Goldsmith. (Rather poor quality photos added by CMB.)

The 8th March was a busy day for CECS. While Mary was at the Huntingdon Library, CECS was hosting a diverse array of papers at its own conference, Rethinking the Grand Tour: Questioning Cultures of Eighteenth-Century Travel.

Rosemary Sweet kicked off with a plea to broaden out the phenomenon of travel, which she promptly did through an expose of elite women travellers in Italy. In considering the remarkable heterogeneity of travel experiences between men and women, including commonly shared ascents of Vesuvius and aesthetic pleasures, she also drew attention to the gendered experience that at times was enforced through a ‘gendered visual itinerary’. While Rosemary drew attention to women, Matthew Grenby highlighted the consistent, but little-considered, presence of children travellers, focusing upon the children’s domestic Tour Book. In postulating the coeval emergence of children’s literature and antiquarian guides in the 1740s, Matthew traced the educational transition from antiquarianism to heritage through exploring works such as Mary Cooper’s The travels of Tom Thumb over England and Wales (1746), which combined cutting edge antiquarian scholarship with a politicised, nationalistic narrative of British history and landscape.

Next up, Simon Bainbridge charted the mid-century development of mountaineering and burgeoning summit fever in Britain. Simon drew attention towards the ‘expedition’ narrative that cast these excursions as heroic masculine pursuits, but also highlighted the involvement of women in these ascents. While often presented as a physically weaker ‘other’ in male accounts, women evidently did not always limit themselves to the easiest routes.  These ‘intrepid maids’ were even presented as occasionally outstripping the men in their physical endeavours. Moving from British mountains to the Alps, Sarah Goldsmith explored how experiences of danger were used to constructed masculine identities in the letters and diaries of elite male Grand Tourists. While dogs were frequently cast as extensions of the self, allowing for displaced expressions of anxiety, servants and guides were used an ‘emotional’ others, displaying the extremes of emotional incontinence or insensitivity. In casting themselves as emotionally and physically in control, the Grand Tourists used danger to advance collective and individual claims towards elite rights to rule based on a discourse of emotional hierarchy.

photo JWW and SG
End of the a.m. session. Sarah Goldsmith being congratulated after giving her paper. Jim Watt with Matthew Grenby in the foreground, and Simon Bainbridge and Elodie Duche in the background.
photo Calk and AM
And start of the p.m. session. Catriona Kennedy introducing Amy Milka. Over 70 people attended the conference at the King’s Manor.

After lunch, Amy Milka and Elodie Duché provided some fascinating reconsiderations of the relationships between revolution, war, nations and travel. Working towards a more nuanced understanding of the British-French relationship during the early stages of the French Revolution, Amy explored representations of French receptions and portrayals of the many British travellers that flocked to Revolutionary Paris. While scholars have normally focused upon their positive reception, Amy’s close reading of Pierre-Victor Malouet’s Le Voyage et Conspiration de Deux Inconnues (1791) suggested a colder relationship. Moving on to the Napoleonic Wars, Elodie highlighted how the Grand Tour and travel cultures shaped the experiences and reflections of the British ‘détenus’ and prisoners of war at Verdun. In outline the continuity in aspects such as financial networks and means of reading and recording landscape and people, Elodie outlined the affinity between tourism, captivity and war.

The day wrapped up with a roundtable discussion, chaired by Michèle Cohen.  Michèle welcomed recent efforts to reopen the historiography of the Grand Tour and culture of travel from a narrow focus of Italy and connoisseurship, and observed how each of the day’s scholars complicated and extended the stories of the Tour. The usefulness of the term ‘Grand Tour’ was debated in light of the multiple cultures of travel highlighted during the day, while the roles of gender, politics, social class and inter-national relationships were also considered. Observations from the floor were also raised, which included other nations’ experience of travel; the extent to which a ‘British’, as opposed to ‘English’, ‘Protestant Irish’ etc, Grand Tour can be claimed; the long-term influence of pilgrimage in forming travel cultures; and the influences of access, aesthetics, history, power and social networks in shaping domestic and foreign travel itineraries.

Many thanks to all who made it such a pleasant and informative day, and to Michèle Cohen for the generous permission to use her notes in writing this blog!


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