The Centre for Transnational and Transcultural Research (CTTR) had the pleasure of co-organising the 11th Borders & Crossings/Seuils et traverses International Travel Writing Conference held at the Bolyarski Hotel, Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria, on 11-13 September 2014. The conference series began at Magee College, Derry, in 1998, and has since visited 7 countries on 11 occasions in its 16-year history, Bulgaria being its first location in Eastern Europe.
The conference was co-organised by Dr Benjamin Colbert and Dr Glyn Hambrook of the CTTR, and Professor Ludmilla Kostova, Department of British and American Studies, University of Veliko Turnovo, herself a CTTR Honorary Research Fellow. It was the latest fruit of a collaboration between the University of Wolverhampton and the University of Veliko Turnovo that dates back to a TEMPUS (later ERASMUS) agreement in the early 1990s.
The 11th Borders & Crossings brought together some 40 delegates from Albania, Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, the UK, and the USA. Charles Forsdick, James Barrow Professor of French at the University of Liverpool, gave the keynote address, ‘Travel Writing and the Senses’, uniting travel writing studies and disability studies in a theoretically nuanced consideration of the figure of the blind or visually impaired traveller. His talk challenged the privileged position of the visual in travel writing and travel writing studies, and pointed to wider possibilities for exploring mobility and expression when all of the senses are taken into account.
Complementing the keynote address, a special panel entitled ‘Keywords in Travel’, with papers by Forsdick (‘Travel’), Zoe Kinsley (‘Margins’), and Kate Walchester (‘Motivations’), gave a glimpse of their jointly edited volume in progress, Travel Writing: 100 Key Words, to be published by Anthem Press in 2015. Walchester’s position paper struck a particular chord with many of the delegates whose papers delved into the motives that impelled travellers to travel, to write about their travels, and to publish those writings (three distinct phases not always in sync, as Colbert’s paper on nineteenth-century women’s travel writing and the digital humanities illustrated). Several papers considered questions raised by travellers who wrote of experiences that had little to do with leisure. For example, Betty Hagglund (University of Birmingham) discussed the Quaker relief worker, Francesca M. Wilson, who worked in Serbia during and immediately after the First World War, and who described her experiences at removes of memory in travel books of 1922 and 1944.
The same experience from different perspectives also figured in Eimear Kennedy’s (Queen’s University, Belfast) contribution on the Irish-language writer Manchán Magan’s travels to India translated into English and adapted into a TV travel documentary; and Angél Tuninetti (West Virginia University) on the Argentinean officer and diplomat Lucio Mansilla’s 1870 account of an expedition to make peace with the Ranquel Indians, in juxtaposition with three further accounts by clergymen, two on the same expedition.
Two panels (Eating the Other I & II) considered food, food tourism, and celebrity cookbooks as impelled by motives mimicking authenticity but often hovering uncomfortably at its edges. Ingrida Žindžiuvienė’s (Vytautus Magnus University, Kaunus, Lithuania) paper on Peter Mayle’s gourmet travel writings discussed the flattening out of ethnological difference in transnational communities forming around food. Similarly, as one jet-setter pursuing the latest in foreign food fashion put it, in the multimedia presentation delivered by Massimo Alvito (ISIA Design, Florence, Italy), ‘I live for food’.
But if travel at times refigures necessities as aesthetic refinement (food to live vs. living for food), it can also be impelled by the need to stake more fundamental claims for existence, as Scott Manning Stevens (Syracuse University) illustrated in his paper, ‘Memorial Sovereignty’, on the often interrupted travels of the Haudenosaunees (aka Iroquois) who visit nations that do not recognise theirs, who use passports that leave them stranded at borders, and who assert their sovereignty through resistance rather than mobility.
The full programme and abstracts of all the papers can be downloaded in PDF here. The torch or mantle (if you prefer) of Borders & Crossings/Seuils et traverses is now being passed to Queen’s University in Belfast which will host the conference in 2015. We look forward to seeing you there.