Travel: A Literary History — By Peter Whitfield

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An important book which uncovers the history of travel writing before we learned to call it travel writing.

— Condé Nast Traveller

This is a book which every serious reader of travel books will find absorbing; It is probably the most thoughtful study of the subject since Paul Fussell's Abroad in 1980.

— Times Literary Supplement

Taking the form of fact-filled travelogues, stunt-writing spectaculars, or genre-blurring imaginative works, travel writing has never been more popular than it is today. But beyond the self-conscious literary artistry of today’s narratives lies a rich and well-documented history of travel writing, stretching back over several thousand years and incorporating the work of mariners and missionaries, diplomats and dilettantes alike.

In Travel: A Literary History, author Peter Whitfield offers the first broad survey to range over the whole history of travel writing from the ancient world to the present, highlighting more than one hundred texts, including works by Marco Polo, T. E. Lawrence, Christopher Columbus, Daniel Defoe, Joseph Conrad, and Captain Cook.

Whether their travels were merely for pleasure or the result of exploration, military occupation, or trade, the writers discussed here all sought to re-imagine their surroundings and, through their writings, reinterpret them for the reader.

Because of that personal, interpretive approach, Whitfield shows, their work inhabits a strange borderland between fact and fiction.

Over time, as our travel objectives have changed, so too has the tone of travel writing, eschewing the traditional stance of cultural superiority in favor of a deeper sensitivity to other peoples and places.

Travel: A Literary History is rounded out by numerous illustrations from manuscripts and books of travel in the collection of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.

A world-class examination of a little-explored genre, Travel: A Literary History offers an accessible look at the history of travel writing that will make a great addition to any carry-on.

Here's a New York Times Arts Beat interview with Peter Whitfield about Travel: A Literary History that will give you more insight into this fascinating book.

And here is the Table of Contents:


1. The Prehistory of Travel Writing
2. The Age of Discovery
3. The Seventeenth Century: The Non-conquerors
4. The Eighteenth Century: Travelling for Knowledge
5. The Nineteenth Century: The Theatre of the World
6. The Twentieth Century: No Foreign Land

Principal Works Discussed


  • Condition: New, hardcover
  • Publisher: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
  • ISBN: 9781851243389
  • Publication date: March 2013
  • Pages: 303
  • Dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)


In addition to Travel: A Literary History, Peter Whitfield is the author of numerous books of history, poetry, and literary criticism including: Illustrating Shakespeare, London and Mapping Shakespeare's World