English | Victorian Literature
L743 | 22201 | Sterrenburg


5:45p - 8:30p W

TOPIC:  ENCOUNTER AND EXCHANGE: IMPERIAL TRAVEL NARRATIVES AND
FICTIONS

Our Victorian seminar will study theories, narratives, and fictions
of global travel and adventure.  Travel narratives and fictions will
come into focus as we read in from several schools of imperial, post-
colonial, and travel writing criticism.  I’m especially
interested “exchange” or interactive school of criticism as
articulated by Vanessa Smith, Nicholas Thomas, Peter Hulme, Neil
Whitehead, others.   Books that have influenced my thinking about
this course and the problems it engages include Thomas’ Entangled
Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific
and Colonialism’s Culture.
A couple of notices on Smith’s Literary Culture and the Pacific:
Nineteenth-Century Cultural Encounters give some indication of how
this interactive criticism operates. One reads: “The book argues
that these texts [Robert Louis Stevenson's late Pacific writings]
can only be properly assessed as the products of a complex, cross-
cultural interaction that throws into question assumptions about the
unidirectional influence of metropolitan upon peripheral
cultures.”   Another remarks: “Smith argues that the texts of
contact and settlement are shaped at least as much by local contexts
as by the agendas of their European authors.”   Our class will look
at ways in contexts and exchanges produced two-way trafficking in
imperial and global travel narratives.  What, in particular,
happened to European notions of racial superiority, colonial
dominance, the superior status of the “English” language, and the
inferiority of non-European ethnic peoples when those premises
arrived amidst different sets of entangled local conditions on the
ground?  How did global encounters shape and affect the Europeans,
even while the Europeans were busy truing to view and alter the
periphery in light of what they regarded as the superior values of
the metropolitan center?  How much does race and racial difference
really explain what went on the nineteenth century?  Why did
colonialisms and imperialisms turn out so differently in different
places, cultures, and contexts around the world?  We will focus on
such issues as language exchange, material productions from the
globe, and the shaping of narratives that try to capture global
experiences.  Women travelers are an especially rich and still
mostly untapped resource.  One might note that the bibliography of
nineteenth-century of travel narratives by British and American
writers on the Victoria web contains some published books!

At this point, I am thinking of starting globally in the first week
and then moving on to three main geographical areas of concern.
The course will be shaped mostly around three geographical areas
rather than moving chronologically across the 1830 to roughly 1900
period.   Those geographical areas are first, Asia, particularly
inner Asia: second, the South Seas; and third, the Americas,
particularly the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South
America. Students may of course work on materials dealing with
places beyond these. These simply happen to be the three I know most
about.   Our geographical progression from Asia to the South Seas to
South America does have a kind of historical logic in hindsight.
Among the first contacts Europeans had with non-European places were
in Asia (dating back to the time of Herodotus, etc.).  The South
Seas became prominent during the seventeenth and especially
eighteenth centuries; and the “opening” of South America for British
purposes did not occur in many respects until after the revolutions
of liberation in the 1820s.  I think we’ll probably spend most of
our time on Asia and the Americas, with the South Seas figuring as
an interlude between them.

If I think we have the time to do it, we may start with overview and
read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, focusing particularly
on the parts about the early domestication of plants and animals in
the Fertile Crescent, the important role of Asia in global
environmental history, and the radiation of peoples out to the
islands of the south seas, and the environmental circumstances
affecting the developments of cultures in the isolated Americas.

We’ll then move to our Asia unit where texts may include the likes
of:

Frederick Burnaby, A Ride to Khiva: Travels and Adventures in
Central Asia
Isabella Bird, Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, volume I
Isabella Bird, Among the Tibetans (suggested, optional)
Rudyard Kipling, Kim
Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central
Asia
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”
Matthew Arnold, Sorab and Rustum
Alexander von Humboldt, the “Steppes and Deserts” essay from Aspects
of Nature and the parts about Herodotus, Alexander the Great, the
Silk Road, Arabia, and overland contacts with China in volume II of
Cosmos.

Critical reading excepts will probably come from Edward Said’s
Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, and Thomas Richards’
Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire.

Our brief South Seas Interlude will probably include:

Robert Lewis Stevenson, In the South Seas
Critical readings from Smith’s Literary Culture and the Pacific:
Nineteenth-Century Cultural Encounters
Optional and suggested will be Jonathan Lamb, Vanessa Smith, and
Nicholas Thomas’s Exploration and Exchange: A South Seas Anthology

Our readings from the Latin American Unit may include:

Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle (parts of this only)
Lady Florence Dixie, Riding Across Patagonia
William Henry Hudson, Idle Days in Patagonia (a few selected
excerpts)
Robert Lewis Stevenson, Treasure Island
William Henry Hudson, Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical
Forest
Joseph Conrad, Nostromo a Tale of the Seaboard

A utopian thought.  If we can squeeze it in at the end (and maybe we
can’t) we might conclude with the greatest Latin American empire
novel of all, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of
Solitude.  If not, it might be a good idea to read this book over
the summer.

Student writing in the course will include a seminar length paper
(circa 18-20 pages suggested); a 200 word abstract of that paper; a
short five page paper; some regular short one page informal working
response papers  Students will regularly participate in classroom
discussions.