Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing

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Journeys through print: John Murray and nineteenth-century travel writing

Satisfying an increased popular demand for exploration narratives, the London publisher John Murray issued more than two hundred books of travel during the first half of the nineteenth century. These texts, together with their earlier manuscript incarnations and their authors’ correspondence with Murray, provide an important record of how travellers’ accounts were written, how they were edited and adapted for publication, and how the claims they made about distant locals were evaluated and assessed. Based upon an examination of extant material in the John Murray Archive, this paper discusses the related issues of observation, inscription, and credibility in an effort to understand the material and epistemic transformations which brought travel narratives from their manuscript beginnings to their final printed form.

By interrogating the embodied practices of travel writing—seeing, recording, and narrating—this paper investigates the ways in which authors sought to establish a correspondence between their lived experiences and the textual representations of those experiences. In attending to questions of how, where, when, and why Murray’s travellers recorded the details of their journeys, this paper considers the degree to which the form and style of their written accounts disciplined their content and, in turn, influenced their perceived credibility and utility. Given that Murray’s travellers were only ever partial and imperfect witnesses, an additional concern is to understand how they assured themselves—and, through the published versions of their work, their audiences—of the truth. The focus of this paper is, then, on the epistemological bases to travellers’ claims to truth, and how they differently evaluated the significance of direct observation and the oral and textual testimony of third parties in the production of their narratives.
Period23 Jun 200926 Jun 2009
Event typeConference
LocationToronto, CanadaShow on map