Category Archives: News

Curious Travellers 2: A New Project

We’re delighted to announce the start of a further ‘Curious Travellers’ project with funding from the AHRC!

An exciting collaborative research project with the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, Glasgow University and the Natural History Museum will produce the first ever scholarly editions of Thomas Pennant’s Tours of Wales and Scotland.

‘Barmouth’ by Moses Griffith (ca 1778) National Library of Wales

‘Curious Travellers 2: Digital Editions of Thomas Pennant’s Tours of Wales and Scotland’ is an innovative project combining traditional textual editing with new approaches in the digital humanities. These will be the first ever scholarly editions of the influential Welsh and Scottish tours of the Flintshire-based naturalist and antiquarian Thomas Pennant of Downing (1726-98), and they will be freely available to all users.

Partnerships with the national libraries of Wales and Scotland, the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and Historic Environment Scotland will allow us to link Pennant’s writings to a wealth of contemporary images and information.

Pennant’s Tours shaped perceptions of Wales and Scotland in ways that remain with us today. We’re especially delighted to be teaming up with the Natural History Museum to explore how Pennant’s work as a naturalist shaped his travels. This is a fantastic opportunity to bring these rich, multi-layered texts to life.

The Curious Travellers team will also be working with schools and communities in Flintshire and the Isle of Skye, and will co-host exhibitions in Greenfield Valley Heritage Park, and the Gilbert White House in Selbourne.

More news to follow!

Funding for two new pilot projects on Thomas Pennant’s Outlines of the Globe

Congo and Angola Map from Thomas Pennant’s ‘Outlines of the Globe’
Congo and Angola Map from Thomas Pennant’s ‘Outlines of the Globe’
©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Two researchers from the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies have received funding for pilot projects which will allow greater access to treasures held at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. Outlines of the Globe is a set of extraordinary illustrated manuscripts compiled by Flintshire naturalist Thomas Pennant (1726-1798)—an ‘Imaginary World Tour’ covering areas from West Africa and Northern Europe to India, Japan, and Indonesia.  Based on Pennant’s lifelong experience as a traveller, antiquarian and naturalist, combined with the first-hand knowledge of his unparalleled network of international correspondents, Outlines offers an overview of the eighteenth-century world as observed from the British archipelago. Both projects will help us to understand how Britons imagined their empire in an expansive global context.

Dr Rhys Kaminski-Jones (currently a post-doctoral fellow at CAWCS) has obtained a Caird Fellowship in the National Maritime Museum to study the manuscripts for three months. He will expand the existing online catalogue entries for the 22 volumes of the Outlines at the NMM, allowing future researchers to better navigate this fascinating material. He will also write blogs for the Royal Museums Greenwich website and conduct new research into Pennant’s archive, concentrating on the manuscript’s innovative approach to travel writing, its place in networks of European imperialism, and its portrayal of the relationship between Wales and India.

Dr Ffion Mair Jones (Research Fellow at CAWCS) has obtained a grant from Wales Innovation Network (WIN) to develop a project focused specifically on Pennant’s manuscript on West Africa: this volume may have been put together in 1788 at a key moment in the debate about abolition in Britain. Working with colleagues from the National Maritime Museum, Race Council Wales, Bristol, Glasgow and Cardiff Universities, Dr Jones’s project will examine the compilation of both text and images from a decolonising perspective, asking questions about the nature of late C18th representation of African cultures and people.

Both projects build on work done over the years with the Curious Travellers project, and demonstrate the relevance of Pennant’s work to some of the key questions of our own times.

Shortlisted for the Saltire National Book Awards 2021, Best Research Book of the Year

We are thrilled to see Nigel Leask’s Stepping Westward: Writing the Highland Tour c.1720-1830 on the shortlist for the Research Award in the Scotland’s National Book Awards 2021. This work has made a huge contribution to understanding of the history and development of Scottish tours in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Whilst the lens is trained on the literary records of these tours, it’s hard to imagine more impressive interdisciplinary range brought to bear on this fascinating topic.
Oxford University Press

More information here.

Nigel Leask, Stepping Westward: Writing the Highland Tour c.1720-1830 (Oxford: OUP, 2020)

Curious Travellers are delighted to announce a major new publication. Here, Nigel Leask explains what this book sets out to do.

Stepping Westward grew out of the wider research on Pennant’s Welsh and Scottish tours central to Curious Travellers: that’s why the chapter on Pennant’s Scottish tours is really the keystone of the book. It’s the first study of its kind dedicated to the literature of the Scottish Highland tour 1720-1830, which attracted writers and artists like Pennant, Johnson and Boswell, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Hogg, Keats, Daniell, and Turner, as well as numerous less celebrated travellers and tourists. Addressing more than a century’s worth of literary and visual accounts of the Highlands, the book casts new light on how the tour developed a modern literature of place, acting as a catalyst for thinking about improvement, landscape, and the shaping of British, Scottish and Gaelic identities. Special attention is paid to the relationship between travellers and the native Gaels, whose world was plunged into crisis by rapid and forced social change in the wake of Culloden. The best-selling tours of Pennant and Dr Johnson, alongside the Ossian craze and Gilpin’s picturesque, stimulated a wave of ‘home tours’ from the 1770s through the romantic period, including writing by women like Sarah Murray and Dorothy Wordsworth. The incidence of published Highland Tours (many lavishly illustrated), peaked around 1800, but as the genre reached exhaustion, the ‘romantic Highlands’ were reinvented in Scott’s poems and novels, coinciding with steam boats and mass tourism, but also rack-renting, sheep clearance and emigration.”

More information.

Research Visitor to Curious Travellers from India.

We are delighted to welcome Professor Debarati Bandyopadhyay (Department of English, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, India) who is currently on a month-long Visiting Fellowship in Glasgow working with the Curious Travellers team (July 6th-3rd August 2018). Debarati’s research is concerned with the intersection of ecocriticism and geocriticism, with a special emphasis on Thomas Pennant and the 18th century origins of the ‘New’ Nature Writing. She was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in India (2010-11), and an International Visiting Fellow at the University of Essex (2017): her invitation to Glasgow was extended by Prof Leask on behalf of the whole Curious Travellers team.  She is currently in Special Collections at Glasgow University Library poring over early editions of Thomas Pennant’s works, in search of signs of ‘New’ Nature Writing in this extensive collection. Debarati may be contacted here for academic discussions – we look forward to her further collaborations with the project, and wish her the best for her research on Thomas Pennant.

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