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Impact case study

The Literature of British Travel and Exploration

Unit(s) of assessment: English Language and Literature

School: School of Arts and Humanities


The activities of the Centre for Travel Writing Studies influence museum exhibitions, projects run by learned societies and university courses on travel writing and culture.

This pioneering research centre creates new understandings of travel writing, within and beyond academia, and produces a fresh appreciation of the centrality of travel to British history and culture.

The centre works in partnership with institutions such as:

  • Coventry Transport Museum
  • the National Maritime Museum
  • the Joseph Banks Trust
  • the Hakluyt Society and Nottingham's Bromley House Library.

Researchers organise exhibitions, arrange public events, and, through the publication of important historical travel accounts, preserve, conserve and present cultural heritage. This collaborative work impacts on how museums and libraries view and present their collections and on societies' publications. The centre provides specialist knowledge to media researchers and its research influences university syllabuses.

Collaboration with museums and other public bodies is a key part of the centre's output. Professor Tim Youngs, Dr Carl Thompson, Professor Claire Jowitt, Dr Neil Chambers and Professor Tim Fulford have organised conferences hosted by the National Maritime Museum on aspects of English exploration, including Exploring travel and texts, Shipwreck in the long 18th Century and Joseph Banks, India, and the Pacific.

The partnership with the National Maritime Museum was strengthened by Jowitt's and Fulford's appointments there as Caird fellows in 2009 and 2010 respectively. In 2009, Chambers and Fulford organised, with The Collection museum in Lincoln, the conference 'Cultivating empire: Exploration, science, and literature'. Since 2009, Youngs' AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with Coventry Transport Museum has given the museum insights into new ways of presenting material.

The centre also guides the work of societies, libraries and other registered charities. Neil Chambers sits on the library committee for the Sir Joseph Banks Society; Fulford has been a trustee of the Joseph Banks Trust; Youngs served on the Hakluyt Society's Council in 2008 and 2009, and Jowitt has served on it since 2012. Chambers has advised on decisions regarding export licences for works of art of national importance (for Tate Britain and Arts Council England). Youngs is president, and Ouditt treasurer, of the International Society for Travel Writing.

The centre is also active in fostering public awareness of the cultural history of travel in the media. For example, Chambers supplied an interview and research about Banks for Dan Cruickshank on Kew: The garden that changed the world (BBC, 2009); Thompson was interviewed for the documentary Travel Writing (BBC Scotland Learning, 2008) and was interviewed for BBC East Midlands TV news and BBC Radio Nottingham about Byron as traveller (both 2009); Jowitt's article on 'Queen Elizabeth's Pirates' was cover and lead feature in BBC History Magazine; Chambers' expertise on Banks is frequently used by broadcast media: e.g. Nutopia for the History Channel's seven-part series The British (2012); Jowitt supplied information about Hakluyt for episode one, of the BBC2 series Empire of the Seas (2010); Thompson was advisor for a Chilean TV drama series about Maria Graham (2011).

Research background

NTU's expertise in travel writing studies is deep-rooted. The Centre for Travel Writing Studies was established in 2003 as a result of the university having a unique concentration of scholars in this field: Tim Youngs (since 1987), Sharon Ouditt (since 1992), Tim Fulford (1995-2012), Carl Thompson (since 2003). The strength of the research was reinforced by the appointments of Claire Jowitt (2005-2012), Betty Hagglund (2007-2010), Neil Chambers (since 2008) and Robert Burroughs (2007-2009). The centre's research on travel and exploration literature has shaped academic and public understanding of travel writing.

Key introductions to travel writing by Youngs and Thompson help to form readers' understanding of the genre and of developments in the field. Youngs' Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing (co-edited with Peter Hulme, 2002) helped to define the field and remains the standard guide. Thompson's Travel Writing (2011) was described as "a really exceptional introduction to the genre" (Journal of Postcolonial Studies 48, 4, 2012). These works feature on university syllabuses and are regarded as key texts on travel writing. Both books are being translated into Arabic.

Youngs' Cambridge Introduction to Travel Writing (May 2013) was hailed by Condé Nast Traveller as "magisterial". Youngs was associate editor of the revised Oxford Companion to English Literature (ed. Dinah Birch, 2010). He and Thompson contributed numerous entries on travel writers and texts, including Youngs' own entry on travel writing itself.

Foundational scholarly contributions include Youngs' published work on nineteenth-century travellers in Africa (1994); Fulford's on travel, exploration, and empire (2004) and on Romantic-period Native Americans (2006); Thompson's on shipwreck (2007), exploration, misadventure and modes of Romantic travel (2007); Jowitt's on early modern piracy (2006; 2010); and Chambers on Banks, collecting and the British Museum (2007–2009). Youngs founded (in 1997) and continues to edit the leading journal in the field: Studies in Travel Writing, published quarterly by Routledge since 2009.

The Centre for Travel Writing Studies has launched several landmark editorial projects. The Hakluyt and Banks series are creating two of the great collections of travel-related writing. The Hakluyt project, developed by Jowitt, is working on what will be the first scholarly edition of Richard Hakluyt's The Principal Navigations (2nd edition,1598-1600). The new edition of Hakluyt is scheduled to be published by Oxford University Press in 19 volumes (2014-2016), with Jowitt as co-general editor. A co-edited book, Richard Hakluyt and Travel Writing in Early Modern Europe, was published in 2012. The project has attracted over £162,000 of funding since 2008.

The Joseph Banks Archive Project has been housed at the Centre for Travel Writing Studies since 2008. In that time it has attracted over £400,000 worth of funding from over 40 charitable sources. The project aims to reconstruct and promote the importance of Banks' massive correspondence, and through the correspondence, to explore both Banks' career and science, and exploration and settlement globally during his lifetime. Chambers has published The Indian and Pacific Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, 1768-1820 in seven volumes (Pickering and Chatto) between 2008 and 2013. An edition of Banks' African corresponsence is contracted.


  • Coverage of the collaboration with the National Maritime Museum which led to the publication of a new edition of the major work of British exploration history and commemoration of maritime travel.
  • Carl Thompson's talk about the poet Lord Byron for the BBC.
  • Carl Thompson's interview with the BBC about Lord Byron.
  • Quotes from reviews of Tim Youngs' Cambridge Introduction to Travel Writing, including Conde Nast's view that it is "magisterial".
  • News report on the centre's collaboration with the Lincoln Collection and the Heritage Lottery Fund success.


  • Carey, D. and Jowitt, C. eds., 2012. Richard Hakluyt and Travel Writing in Early Modern Europe. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate. "[A] landmark in scholarly engagement with Hakluyt's work… open[s] up new avenues of scholarship and critical interpretation." International Journal of Maritime History, quotes.
  • Chambers, N., 2008-2013. The Indian and Pacific Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, 1768-1820. 7 vols. London: Pickering & Chatto. (vol 8 to be published May 2014.)
  • Hulme, P. and Youngs, T. eds., 2002. The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jowitt, C., 2010. The Culture of Piracy, 1580-1630: English Literature and Seaborne Crime. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate. Shortlisted for the European Society for the Study of English Book Award 2012 in the Literatures in the English Language category.
  • Ouditt, S., 2013. Impressions of Southern Italy: British Travel Writers from Henry Swinburne to Norman Douglas. Oxford: Routledge.
  • Youngs, T., 2013. The Cambridge Introduction to Travel Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Thompson, C., 2011. Travel Writing. Oxford: Routledge.
  • Thompson, C., 2007. The Suffering Traveller and the Romantic Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Thompson, C., ed., 2007. Romantic-era Shipwreck Narratives. Nottingham: Trent Editions. "[T]his superb volume … along with Thompson's [Suffering traveller] should begin a period of sustained interest in the sea in Romantic scholarship." Year's Work in English Studies (2009).
  • Youngs, T. and Forsdick, C. eds., 2012. Travel Writing: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies. Four vols. Oxford: Routledge.

"[I]t is not often that a single idea or motif – here that of misadventure – can be inserted into such a thoroughly researched field and have such a transformative effect”. Review of Carl Thompson's The suffering traveller and the romantic imagination (2007) in Modern Language Review 104.1 (2009).

"Chambers's collections of Banks's letters not only provide an invaluable scholarly resource, but give a wonderful flavour of the world that produced Banks, and which he then proceeded to shape." Times Literary Supplement, quoted on the Pickering and Chatto website.

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