Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History

Women's travel diaries and correspondence from the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

This world history resource offers students and researchers a window to the past and transports them across continents. From the everyday to the extraordinary, these rare diaries and the supporting correspondence describe the travel experiences, destinations and desires of nineteenth and twentieth century American women.

The project has wide ranging interdisciplinary appeal, offering first hand accounts of major historical events as reported by eye witnesses, detailing key interests and themes in women’s lives, providing snapshots of cities, cultures and customs, and charting the rise of modern tourism and the travel industry.

From the meticulous accounts of outings and sightseeing of the chaperoned young lady, to the impassioned descriptions of far continents by the determined explorer, these personal accounts are written by women of all ages, travelling for many different reasons, from all walks of life. They cover journeying for work, for pleasure, for charity, for enlightenment, by sea, air and land. The explorations range from vacations to intrepid adventures, and every type of trip in between.

This excellent resource is an invaluable source of primary materials for students and faculty alike. The importance of travel writing extends well beyond mere descriptions of other places. Politics, society, identity, alterity, gender, and race, are just some of the many issues that the site can be used to explore.
Professor Patricia Lorcin, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Key Data

Period Covered

  • 1835 - 1976


  • Elizabeth Cary Agassiz’s scientific and cultural explorations of Brazil in the 1860s
  • Lillian Schoedler’s remarkable world travels between 1927 and 1963
  • Travel to countries within the British, French, Chinese and American empires and discussion of empire and nationalism, as well as the post-colonial world
  • A variety of modes of transport, including sea voyages, road trips, wagon trains and air travel
  • Motivations for travel including tourism, work, exploration, missionary work and pilgrimages
  • Documents range from the first trip of a young student abroad to the spiritual journey of a retired woman seeking enlightenment

Source Archive

  • The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Material Types

  • Unique manuscripts
  • Diaries
  • Travel journals
  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Postcards and ephemera

Editorial Board

  • Marilyn Dunn, The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
  • Patricia Lorcin, University of Minnesota
  • Ellen Shea, The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
  • Linda Wagner-Martin, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Tim Youngs, Nottingham Trent University


  • Empire
  • Tourism
  • The environment
  • Natural history
  • Politics
  • Spiritual enlightenment
  • Urban history
  • Cultural history
  • Education

Key Features

  • Interactive maps showing the major destinations of all the travellers
  • Detailed case studies of several of the travellers showing their routes
  • Visual material including photographs and postcards
  • Essays by leading historians and the curators of the collections


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