Sunday, March 25, 2012

Narratives of Travel Writing and Architectural History

The 3rd session of the Nomad seminar will be held on November 9 2012, in Ankara at the Middle East Technical University.

Since the Renaissance, the early modern and modern eras have been increasingly marked by ‘movement.’ People, objects and ideas travelled across geographies within the quite disparate conditions of pilgrimage, migration, colonization, trade, archaeology or tourism to name a few.  Arguably beginning with the Grand Tour and reaching its climax in the nineteenth and twentieth century, journeys abroad became a pervasive and fashionable practice. The English historian Eric Hobsbawm tells the story of how his father, a young man from England with Polish origin who held a post in a shipping office in Egypt - the then British colony - met his mother, a young lady from Austria-Hungary who was visiting Alexandria with her uncle who had business relations there, stating that “the economics and politics of the [era] …, not to mention its social history, brought them together.” In such a context, the movement of not only  explorers, adventurers, archaeologists, architects, diplomats, and traders but also ethnographic and natural specimens, antique remains, or local products and curiosities, has led to the circulation of accompanying concepts, notions, discourses and narratives between different cultures of the ‘east’ and the ‘west.’

In most cases, textual and visual documentation guided these travels, or were prepared by travelers as products of their journeys. In this seminar, our interest is in tackling all types of travel writing in the modern era from travelogues that are often subjective records of daily experiences, to guides or popular press reports that produce seemingly objective descriptions of distant geographies. The analysis of these published or unpublished travel accounts requires a critical understanding of how they mobilized the prevalent discourses and mythologies of their own context, or provided new definitions in naming and classifying sites, buildings, and artifacts previously unknown to them. These practices of definition and taxonomy, as is well known, are also common to some other disciplines that categorize and order the past, most importantly for our purposes to architectural history. Focusing on accounts of such trans-cultural travel with either religious, political, economic, educational or leisurely motivations, our aim is to assess the interaction between, and the mutual impact of similar or disparate narratives of travel writing and architectural history writing.