Learned Societies and Academies, Travel and Travellers, Exploration and Explorers, 1600-1900
15-16 November 2013
Sandhya Patel
Département d’anglais, Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont Ferrand
EHIC (Espaces Humains et interactions culturelles)

Learned societies and academies, sometimes royal, have been understood as pan-European cultural phenomena with humanist antecedents originating in the Renaissance period. These groups variously developed into institutions responding to political or social pressures whilst promoting learning and knowledge. In all cases, the societies and academies in question developed particularly close relationships with travel and travellers of all kinds who were considered as significant conduits for epistemological progress.

Recent research on travel instructions in scholarly journals published by these societies and academies has demonstrated this reliance on and possible direct rule of, travel/exploration and travellers/explorers. Thus, a study of the representation within these periodicals of travel and travellers/explorers, who engage in a “science” defined as “

[…] the temporal/spatial completion of human history” and the “source of ‘philosophical and secular knowledge” seems a particularly fruitful avenue of research if we are to better understand the discursive power of learned groups.

In her study of the Americas, Heurta discusses the intellectual networks which progressively developed into learned societies creating more widely-recognised channels of knowledge accumulation, transfer and circulation. She considers these groups as building a form of erudite sociability which found expression within scholarly periodicals. These latter became the major vectors in the construction of discourse. She posits a correlation between the degrees of authority these publications exercised and technological advances such as mechanisation in printing processes.

Heurta focuses primarily on 19th century French periodicals while this conference will take a wider approach and focus on discourses on travel and exploration within European journals from 1600 onwards. How did directors, editors, individual authors and artists represent travel and travellers within these journals? Can we identify the construction of a specific discourse according to place of publication or period? Withers suggests a “taxonomy” relating to European societies and academies but this categorisation does not seem to preclude internal and international differences in terms of ideological and discursive positioning. Withers points to fundamental divergence between groups established in protestant maritime countries with relatively democratic political structures and those in Catholic states operating within more restrictive, authoritarian regimes. A comparative approach with these characteristics in mind may prove productive in generating questions as to whether travel and travellers, exploration and explorers were represented as mechanisms of empire and expansion, whether they inspired confidence or bred caution and how these representations changed and evolved over time. Are there identifiable links between fluctuating political contexts and representations? How and when does the traveller/explorer acquire “professional” status?

The conference will be held in Clermont-Ferrand on the 15th and 16th November, 2013 during the Rendez-vous du Carnet de Voyage festival. Limited funding is available. One-page abstracts or panel proposals should be submitted to the conference convenor by email ([email protected]) by June 30th. Notification of paper/panel acceptance by July 31st 2013.

James E. McClellan. “Learned Societies.” Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. Ed. Alan Charles Kors. Oxford University Press: 2002, 2005 (e-reference edition). http://www.oxford-enlightenment.com/entry?entry=t173.e388

J. Hayden, Travel Narratives, the New Science and Literary Discourse, 1569-1750, London : Ashgate, 2012.

Johannes Fabian. Time and the Other. Columbia University Press: 2002, p.146

Ibid., p. 6.

Charles W. J. Withers. Placing the Enlightenment: Thinking Geographically about the Age of Reason. University of Chicago Press: 2007. pp.68-70.