The Literature of Travel

Discipline: Comparative Literature
Instructor: Alegre-González
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1550
End: 1705
Field Class: Day 1 - Wednesday, 18 March | Mauritius Download Syllabus

In this Literature course, we’ll read and discuss different types of classic and contemporary travel literature written by the world’s greatest travel writers through time and across lands and seas including Herodotus, Egeria, Benjamin of Tudela, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Christopher Columbus, Ida Pfeiffer, Mark Twain and others. Moving chronologically through time, the historical scope of these travel accounts will allow us to know something not only about the experiences and writing strategies of individual travelers, but about the progressive integration of these regions into global economic, political, and knowledge systems. This course will also introduce ways of interpreting and responding to texts from diverse historical and cultural contexts. Whether the traveler is a curious tourist, a pilgrim, a scientist, the leader of a national expedition, or a starving, half-naked survivor, the encounter with place shapes what travel writing can be.  Students will learn how to identify stereotypes and the essence of an informative transcultural discourse written from a perspective of self-awareness and critique. Different ways to translate what is seen, heard, tasted, touched, smelled and felt (intuitively and physically) in these places into writing will be analyzed. In addition to the readings, students will compose several formal pieces and give oral presentations about travel narratives not included in the course.

Field Class

Country: Mauritius
Day: 1 - Wednesday, 18 March

The French author Bernardin de Saint-Pierre spent 28 months in the French colony of Ile de France (now Mauritius) in 1768-70. This extended exposure to the island led to one of the period’s fullest and most fascinating accounts of a colonial society and its daily life, Journey to Mauritius. Structured as a series of letters Bernardin’s survey of Mauritius includes a detail description of the island’s geography, flora, and fauna. He provides us with one of the earliest examples of a walking guide as he details the sights and landscapes of Mauritius. Some of the popular places of interest that might be included in this visit are visit Chamarel (Black River) and the Casela Nature Park; Grand Bassin; a bazar in Port-Louis; a sugarcane field in inland Mauritius (L’aventure du sucre)/tea plantation (Bois Cheri Tea Plantation). Academic Objectives: 1. Before our field lab, students will read Journey to Mauritius by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. We will have a day-long guided tour of Mauritius as we observe and visit many of the very same places that appear in the book. 2. Students will take detailed descriptive notes, take pictures and consider the proposed reading in relation to their observations. Students will rely upon their notes to write a 1500 word personal travel essay about their experience that will compare their expectations of and experiences in Mauritius and will contrast them with the account by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. Students will be evaluated based on their engagement and participation in the Field lab as well as their personal travel essay. The essay will be assessed on the degree to which it contains the following information: concrete observations on different topics (flora, fauna, food, markets, religion, clothing); to both recapture the descriptions in travel narrative, and to consider the nature of observation by looking at what this author described and what he did not, and compare what interests us with what interested him; the essay should have a thesis statement, evidence and conclusion. 3. Students will apply other course readings to their observations. They might compare and contrast other previous travelers’ experiences shared in the course with ours today. They will reflect upon the different perspectives travelers bring to an experience and learn about life and diversity in contemporary Mauritius.