“…to this gentleman we are indebted for the earliest tours in Scotland, that are worth reading or preserving … he paved the way to that general taste for home travels, which has been so honourable to individuals, and advantageous to the public.”
Wlliam Fordyce Mavor, The British Tourists (1798)
Thomas Pennant’s Welsh and Scottish tours were a major catalyst for the hundreds of tours that followed in their wake over the next half century. While some of these texts were published in the period, and became important works in their own right, many more remain in manuscript in libraries and record offices the length and breadth of Britain. Our project aims to chart the influence of Pennant on subsequent travellers to Wales and Scotland by creating a searchable online corpus of these unpublished tours. Our website will present around sixty tours, each with a short contextualizing introduction, and illustrated by contemporary maps and pictures. A full bibliography of the known extant tours will also provide a finding aid for future research.
Home tours vary widely in length, itinerary, focus and style, so the selection for ‘Curious Travellers’ will include texts combining natural history, antiquarianism, literature, visual culture, history, aesthetics or politics in a variety of ways. The corpus as a whole is likely to transform our current understanding of domestic tourism in the period. The domestic tour was an extraordinarily successful genre, second only to novels and romances, but has been relatively little studied. Conventional views of the phenomenon argue that war with France closed continental Europe and sent would-be Grand Tourists on the domestic (or ‘petty’) tour instead. However, new work on eighteenth-century global travel, especially Pacific exploration, suggests that domestic travel writing was shaped by a wider set of influences than previously acknowledged, from ethnography to Enlightenment antiquarianism.
Our collection of new texts from the period will enable us to explain in much more detail the role of home tourism in the construction of national histories and identities, both at a ‘four nations’ level, and in wider contexts. In considering how the selected tours represent contemporary and historical Britain, the project will also examine travellers’ engagement with vernacular Celtic cultures, including language, poetry and song, and ask how far their perceptions were influenced by contemporary ideas from science and art.
Some sample texts in progress