July Blog Post: Travel and Intellectual Development

During the month of July, I read secondary sources discussing travel in Europe and America. One of the most interesting texts was English Travellers Abroad, 1604-1667, by John Stoye. Stoye researched travelers abroad, particularly in France, Italy, and the Netherlands, in order to explain the origins of the Grand Tour. Stoye identifies how politics at home influenced travelers and shaped their journeys. The search for patronage and courtly politics impacted distant locales like Venice, where Englishmen formed small communities that replicated the hierarchy and conflicts of the court. Stoye argues that not all Englishmen abroad were committed to improving their classical education, instead regarding travel as a social activity. Many returned from traveling unmoved by their Grand Tour. However, others would be significantly impacted by their life abroad, such as John Milton, whose literary discussions with Italian scholars likely encouraged him to write Paradise Lost. Stoye’s book influenced the direction of my research and led me to focus on how the British developed intellectually through travel.

I also spent many hours at the Library of Congress. My readings varied from bibliographies of early modern travel literature to collections of scholarly writing. An interesting collecting was European Visions: American Voices, edited by Kim Sloan and produced after an exhibition at the British Museum of the 1585-1590 watercolors of Native Americans by John White. The various writers focused on different aspects of the watercolors, and their accompanying text: A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, written by Thomas Harriot and published in 1590. The images and text were some of the first representations of Native Americans in Europe, particularly by British travelers. An article by Michael Guadio in the collection discusses how White represented his paintings as truthful and accurate, although a modern analysis reveals likely discrepancies between what White saw and what he portrayed. For example, he used European artistic motifs and staged the different individuals, rather than displaying them naturally. Europeans wanted to categorize Native Americans, and White’s paintings represent an early attempt at ethnography. I am interested in continuing to explore how early interactions with Native Americans shaped European perceptions of these peoples.

I traveled to Williamsburg this month and met with my advisor, Professor Nicholas Popper. We discussed the reading I had done and the timeline for my thesis. I plan to continue to read generally about my topic until late September and then narrow the question I will discuss in my final paper.