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18th Century Scottish Studies 31st Annual Conference, Kelvin Hall, Argyle St, University of Glasgow. 17th – 21st July 2018

Our project panel will be held on Saturday 21st July, 10.45-12.15.

Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant’s Scottish Tours and Networks

Chair: Gerry Carruthers (Glasgow)
Nigel Leask (Glasgow), ‘Ossianic Networks: Pennant, Dr Johnson, and Donald MacQueen of Kilmuir’
Alex Deans (Glasgow), ‘Authority, Locality and History in Thomas Pennant’s Scottish Networks’
Kirsty McHugh (U. of Wales/NLS), ‘In the Footsteps of Pennant and Johnson: Reverend James Bailey’s 1787 Highland Tour’


June 14th 1726, Thomas Pennant’s Birthday

(Downing Hall by Moses Griffith, National Library of Wales, on Wikimedia Commons)

“To prevent all disputes about the place and time of my birth, be it known that I was born on June 14th, 1726, old style, in the room now called the Yellow Room; that the celebrated Mrs Clayton, of Shrewsbury, ushered me into the world, and delivered me to Miss Jenny Parry, of Merton, in the parish; who to her dying day never failed telling me. ‘Ah, you rogue! I remember you when you had not a shirt to your back’”.

Pennant, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell (1796)

To see where Pennant spent his birthday in 1772 go to:,-4.25181

Curious Travellers: Update and Events 2018


Moses Griffith, Penmaen Bach from Penmaen Mawr Road: from the extra-illustrated Tours in Wales

Preparing texts

The research team has been focused for the last few months on preparing selections of letters and tours for online publication. We are planning to launch the first batch of these at a conference to be held this November in the Linnaean Society in London (details below). Getting texts ready for digital publication has proved to be quite a challenge, involving technical aspects (such as tagging names) that go well beyond the usual editorial tasks. But this will make it possible to search the material in many different ways: it should lead to some interesting new angles on Pennant’s correspondence, and will help us to understand how later writers and travellers used his work.  We are, as ever, hugely grateful to our technical team, Luca Guariento and Vivien Williams, for having made this complex process as easy as possible for us.

Exhibition and Events October-December 2018  

The project is in its final year of funding, and we plan to celebrate four very busy years with a series of events in London, centred on a three-month exhibition to be held in the wonderful setting of the Dr Johnson House Museum.  Working with Curator Celine Luppo McDaid, we will explore the famous Highland tour made by Johnson and Boswell in 1775 and its relation to Pennant’s own tours. The letters and tour diaries of Hester Piozzi – Johnson’s close friend and Pennant’s neighbour and relation – will also be included.  Various events are planned during the course of the exhibition: please note the following dates!

4 October: Exhibition Opens: Curious Travellers: Dr Johnson and Thomas Pennant on Tour

30 October: Dr Mary-Ann Constantine will give a lecture to the Cymreigyddion Society

14 November (evening event): Professor Murray Pittock and Professor Nigel Leask will give talks on Johnson and Pennant.

15 November: Day conference and launch of digital texts in the Linnaean Society, Burlington House

14 December (date to be confirmed): An evening of poetry and music at the Dr Johnson House with Scottish and Welsh writers.


Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour 1760-1820

In collaboration with
National Library of Wales

Exhibition: 5-9 February 2018, Summers Room

Lunchtime talk: 1pm, 7 February 2018, the Drwm.

Mary-Ann Constantine will explore the highlights of a four-year project on the Tours of Thomas Pennant (1726–1798) and those who followed in his footsteps. A selection of Pennant’s books and manuscripts will be on display throughout the week in the Library’s Summers Room.

Event held in English

Free admission with ticket

A new itinerary added to the map

We’re excited to announce the addition of a new itinerary to our map viewer: Samuel Johnson and James Boswell’s 1773 tour to the Hebrides. This will allow us to visualize the ways in which these influential tours of Scotland overlapped and diverged, and of course, see how they line up next to a selection of historical maps provided by the NLS. Pennant and Johnson might have been less happy to see their travels presented side by side. Annoyed by a ‘fling’ at him in Johnson’s Tour, and perhaps by the competition it represented to his own Voyage to the Hebrides, Pennant asked his correspondent George Paton to look out for ‘any strictures’ on Johnson in the press, and wrote that he would not acknowledge Johnson in his own work: ‘for really he is not worth notice.’ Nonetheless, we hope that that this will be the first of several Curious Travellers crossovers between Pennant and Johnson, as we look at the impact they had upon later tourists as well as each other.

Curious Travellers in 2017

We are already over half way through the project, and behind the scenes work is progressing on transcribing, editing and tagging Letters and Tours with a great deal of help from our systems developer Luca Guariento, and our new project assistant Vivien Williams. We have now added a Research Blog to our website, which, like the Walkers’ Blog is open to anyone who wishes to contribute. Several events are planned for the next few months where members of the team will be talking about their work; and we’re delighted to say that the wonderful exhibition which ran at Oriel Sycharth last year will be moving to North Wales, and then to Aberystwyth this summer. A volume of essays on Pennant’s Tours of Scotland & Wales, edited by Mary-Ann Constantine and Nigel Leask, is due out from Anthem Press this spring.

Recent talks

January 26-27, London: Alex Deans gave a paper on Pennant & Banks: ‘With a facility of communication’: Pennant, Banks and collaborative knowledge-making’ at a National Portrait Gallery Workshop: ‘Science, Self-fashioning and Representation in Joseph Banks’s Circles’. [abstract]

February 17, Edinburgh: Nigel Leask and Alex Deans spoke about mapping the Pennant Tours at the National Library of Scotland.

Upcoming events

March 8, Glasgow: Nigel Leask will give a lecture on Thomas Pennant to the Royal Philosophical Society in Glasgow.

April 29 (Edge Hill University): Kirsty McHugh will speak on ‘Leeds, Loch Lomond & the Lakes: the Marshalls, the Wordsworths and home tourism’ at Romanticism takes to the hills.

April 29, Oriel Môn, Llangefni, Anglesey: a Welsh-language day-conference devoted to the Morris brothers. Ffion Jones will give a paper on mutual friends and acquaintances of William Morris and Thomas Pennant. [programme]

May 6 Penpont, Brecon (day-conference, all welcome!): Windows on the World: C18th & C19th Travellers to and from Breconshire. [Programme].

Mid-May – end June: Exhibition: Landscape, Movement, Art at Oriel Brondanw, Llanfrothen. Look out for associated talks and events. We are also hoping the exhibition will move to Old College, Aberystwyth for the month of July – details to follow.

May 12, Oxford (public lecture): Mary-Ann Constantine will give the 2017 O’ Donnell lecture: ‘Curious Traveller: Britons, Britain and Britishness in Thomas Pennant’s Tours’.

June 7-9, Dublin: Mary-Ann Constantine will give a keynote lecture to the annual Eighteenth Century Ireland Society Conference, on C18th Welsh Travellers to Ireland (including Thomas Pennant, who visited as a young man in 1754).

July 10-12, Aberystwyth. Borders and Crossings International Conference, Mary-Ann Constantine will be giving a key-note lecture on Romantic-era travel writing and Coasts, and Liz Edwards will be talking about Hester Piozzi’s Home Tours.

July 29-31, York. British Association for Romantic Studies. Curious Travellers will be offering a panel of three papers by Alex Deans, Kirsty McHugh and Mary-Ann Constantine; Liz Edwards will speak on the tours of Hester Piozzi, and Nigel Leask is giving a key-note lecture on radical pedestrian tours.

October 18 (public lecture): Nigel Leask will be giving the 26th Annual Thomas Pennant Society Lecture at Holywell.

Please do contact us if you have any queries, would like one of our team to talk to your group or society, or if you’d like to write something for either of our blogs.

An Interactive Map of Thomas Pennant’s Tours of Scotland

The Curious Travellers team is excited to announce the release of our interactive map of Thomas Pennant’s 1769 and 1772 tours of Scotland, developed by Chris Fleet at the National Library of Scotland’s Map Collections. The split-screen viewer displays itineraries constructed by the team from Pennant’s two Scottish tours, alongside a range of geo-referenced historical maps from the National Library’s extensive collections, including Aaron Arrowsmith’s highly detailed 1807 Map of Scotland, and a map specially commissioned by Pennant to accompany his second tour. Around 800 individual markers pinpoint locations visited by Pennant during his two tours (viewable all at once or by volume), with further information on each location accessible by selecting its marker. While the left-hand pane of the viewer shows these points on a modern map, the right-hand pane simultaneously shows the equivalent location on the selected historical map. We hope you enjoy exploring both Pennant’s Scottish tours and the maps themselves, which reveal fascinating insights into the cartographical and geographical cultures of the period, as well as a rich sense of the country that Pennant must have experienced on his way around Scotland in 1769 and 1772. We would also like to offer our warmest thanks and acknowledgments to Chris Fleet and the team at the National Library’s Map Collections, whose hard work and generosity have made this possible.

‘Curious Travellers: Movement, Landscape, Art’ – A Preview

Liz Edwards & Mary-Ann Constantine

It’s been some 18 months in the making, but our exhibition of artistic responses to Thomas Pennant’s Tour in Wales – ‘Movement, Landscape, Art’ – opens shortly. Here’s a brief preview of some of the works that will be on show at Oriel Sycharth, Glyndŵr University (10 October – 16 December;, and some reflections on the ideas and processes that lie behind them.

The works comprising ‘Movement, Landscape, Art’ are striking, eclectic, moving, and thought-provoking. We had no idea how the thirteen artists would reply to Pennant, but the works inspired by him in the exhibition couldn’t range more widely – from painting and pottery to sound and film art. We’ve recently been working on the artists’ statements accompanying their work, and these have been no less a revelation to us than the works themselves. Key themes thread through these accounts: the slipperiness of the past, always just over that hill, disappearing from view. The thrill, nonetheless, of glimpsing hidden stories, places, scenes. The responsibility (obligation even) for telling forgotten histories of hardship and suffering. Or the enduring quality of the past – not necessarily lost, but sometimes only veiled. And always comprehensible, in one way or another, from a twenty-first-century perspective.

It’s been wonderful to see, in private conversations as well as in the works themselves, or the blogs that chart the process of creating them, how deeply Pennant has sunk into the thoughts and practice of some of the artists. Engaging with his travel writing has taken them to new places – geographically and conceptually – or else inspired them to see familiar ones with fresh eyes.

Every piece within the exhibition embodies these discoveries: here are just a few examples from the many within the show. Ali Lochhead’s prints, based on pigments ground from rock collected at Parys Mountain, evoke the traumatic history of mining, in highly dramatic (but natural) colours very different from her previous work on lead mines. Helen Pugh’s embroidery delicately captures Pennant the naturalist in springtime, in bright green thread and ash seedpods. Barbara Matthew’s shallow-space installations in slate and paint record, and confront, the changing nature of one particular landscape, now far less accessible than it was when Pennant travelled through it. Thomas Pennant himself peers out in miniature from a battered travelling case, surrounded (trapped?) by found objects – broken china, a feather – in the work of Stuart Evans.

These pieces, along with those of nine other exhibiting artists, are beautiful, and unsettling, as they overlay past and present, text and image. Created over the course of 2016, they bring history to life at an uncertain moment in our own time.