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Travel: A Personal Experience

J7.1-3-COVER-SB1.qxdThe below is a special guest post written by Erika Behrisch Elce, contributor for Journeys Volume 15, Issue 1 and author of ‘Adapted for Travellers in General’: En Route with the British Admiralty’s 1849 Manual of Scientific Enquiry.



For me, travel is an intensely personal experience: not only does it help me see the world, but I see myself within it in a whole new way. It is often emotional, just as often chaotic, and certainly has its share of the serendipitous. What drew me to my research on the nineteenth-century British Admiralty’s scientific travel guide, the 1849 Manual of Scientific Enquiry, was the stark contrast between my own individualized experience of travel and the intensive regulation of sight, record-keeping, and understanding the Admiralty tried to instil in the travellers who read the book. It was encouraging people to be curious about the world, but only in strictly proscribed ways. How could that work?


My research on the Victorian Admiralty, and especially scientific exploration, grew out of my doctoral studies on nineteenth-century polar explorers. In their journals, the officers registered a real tension between the individualized frisson of personal discovery and the constrained tabulations of facts and figures they were required to produce on their return to England. In their private papers, the explorers wrote poetry and sketched icebergs, while their approved narratives, published by John Murray, were dominated by appendices, discussions of routes, and the performance of men. But when the officers and men were half a world away – in the South Pacific, in the far North – how did the Admiralty control their behaviour? It was through books like its Manual and the activities it identified that it kept everyone in control.


What’s fascinating about the Admiralty’s guidebook, I think, is that Lord Auckland, the First Lord and the original advocate for the book, realised the huge and so far untapped market for inspired scientific hobbyists. In marketing the book for officers (they were required to read it) but also “travellers in general,” he invited anyone who was interested to join the Admiralty in the expansion of its near global reach. This was radical, and definitely went against the trend of professionalization sweeping through nongovernmental scientific societies of the period. Ironically, though, even as Lord Auckland saw that potential, he and his colleagues understood the difficulty of what they proposed: there was virtually no way they would be able to handle the masses of material they would potentially receive. The Admiralty’s bureaucracy wasn’t equipped to handle its vision.



To read  Erika Behrisch Elce’s full article, click here. To get a free 60-day online trial of the journal, click here.