Project to give new recognition to historic female travel writers

Historic travel accounts written by women will gain increased recognition thanks to a project led by a University of Wolverhampton researcher.

Dr Benjamin Colbert has received £6,000 funding from the British Academy for his database update project, British Women's Travel Writing, 1780-1840: Communities of Authorship.

The database aims to provide accurate bibliographical entries for all books of travel by women published in Britain and Ireland during this period.

Dr Colbert, Reader in English Literature at the University and founder of the database, said: “Since its launch in 2014, Women’s Travel Writing has attracted well over 6,000 users from every part of the world, tapping into an abiding interest in this body of literature.”

The travel writers include well known figures like the pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. More mysterious writers include the Cornish smuggler, Mary Tonkin, whose The Female Spy; or, Mrs Tonkin’s Account of Her Journey through France (1783) was part of her unsuccessful campaign to shame government into paying for services rendered.

The database also considers the many women who wrote collaboratively as co-authors, editors, compilers, illustrators, and translators, or who themselves were edited or published by others.

Louise Demont’s Journal of the Visit of Her Majesty the Queen, to Tunis, Greece, and Palestine (1821), for example, was the first ever female servants-eye travelogue – translated and published without her consent by Edgar Garston.

Former Lady’s maid to Queen Caroline, Demont was chief prosecution witness in the Queen’s trial that year on charges of adultery, Garston was the official translator for the Queen’s counsel, and the book part of his campaign to prove that Demont had perjured herself by denouncing one whom she adulated privately.

Dr Colbert: “In the final phase of the project, original archival research will shed new light on the many of these lesser known authors whose works feature in the database.”

The original database allowed users to browse a list of records for all known books of travel published in Britain and Ireland by women between 1780 and 1840. It also gave access to notes, short biographies of the travel writers and illustrators, and web links to online digital editions.

Database enhancements have been carried out during the first six months of the project, to foreground authors and their roles through a new browse feature, a more versatile search page, and a News and Events blog.

The database is available to search at http://www.wlv.ac.uk/btw.

The enhancements were carried out by Cambridge-based information design and management company, Movable Type Ltd.

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