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East Looks West: East European Travel Writing on European Identities and Divisions, 1550 - 2000
East Looks West is a major research project examining the meanings and uses of the concept of 'Europe' through the medium of east European travel texts. Some 10 years in development and execution, the project, conceived and directed by Professor Wendy Bracewell (UCL SSEES), brought together a team of more than 20 scholars in ten counties to collate and analyse an enormous corpus of travel accounts, written in over 20 languages and published over a period of four and a half centuries. East Looks West publications include fundamental research tools, including a comprehensive bibliography and an anthology of translations, as well as two collections of studies that have laid the foundation for further study of east European travel writing and its uses.
At a time when European identities are increasingly in flux, and social, cultural and political fissures within Europe constitute a major intellectual and political concern, the East Looks West project has provided new perspectives on the history of Europe's limits and divisions - and on their consequences for East and West.
East Looks West continues to support a programme of one-off seminars, conferences and workshops, as well as providing a context for other, associated research programmes and PhD projects. This site also hosts materials developed in the course of the project.
Funding for this project has been generously provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Board, the Modern Humanities Research Association, the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy and the British Council.
People who attended the East Looks West book launch in 2009 may recall the small anthology of samples, also entitled Where to Go in Europe, that Wendy Bracewell and Alex Drace-Francis produced as an advertisement for the East Looks West project. It compiled extracts from travellers' accounts of confronting the problem of where to go while on the road or, to be blunt, writing on toilets. The theme was the way that travellers, East and West, have turned this universal human necessity into a site of cultural - nay, fundamental - difference. That booklet was enthusiastically received and now graces lavatories across three continents. However, the original limited print run has long since been unavailable.
Now an expanded version (this time published under the editors' real names) is to be produced as an experimental collaboration between the School of Slavonic and East European Studies and the UCL Department of Information Studies. The new book contains the results of the editors' researches into travellers' latrinalia through the ages, from a 15th-century Jerusalem pilgrim's advice on using the facilities on a galley to a Bessarabian memoirist's musings on the intimate space of the Soviet tualet. The book itself will be produced as a project in the Department of Information Studies, with postgraduate students in publishing working on the design, printing and marketing, to gain hands-on experience of book publishing. The final design will be chosen from among their solutions, and should be available in print in time for Christmas.
If you would like a copy for your own loo (or traveller's rucksack), keep an eye on this space, or send an email expressing interest to Wendy Bracewell, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reviews for East Looks West Publications
"This interesting and rich volume [...] most certainly represents part of a conscientious attempt to lay the foundations for all future study of the phenomenon. [...] the opening three chapters neatly set the stage for further investigations. They, and the other pieces, should be welcome additions in courses dealing with travel and tourism as well as depictions of East and West."
Patrice M. Dabrowski, Harvard University, HABSBURG
"...the impressive results of an international and interdisciplinary research project on the travel literature of Eastern Europe. [...] Those interested will be delighted with the excellent summary of the state of research as well as the stimulating questions that are raised here. [..] exemplary essays provide good examples of very different approaches to historic accounts of journeys and the potential benefits of their explorations of denominational, national and supranational identities. [...] Both volumes taken together demand to be used for the preparation of seminars on Eastern and Southern European travel literature or, more generally, the problem of European identity."
Christian Noack, National University of Ireland, H-Soz-u-Kult
London Through Romanian Eyes took place as part of the first ever UCL Festival of the Arts, enabling visitors discover London through Romanian eyes, with travel accounts by Romanians past and present, discussions, and short films about Romanians in London.
Travellers' Toilets also took place as part of the festival, exploring UCL research on toilets, travel writing, cultural difference - and where to go, in London and around Europe.
A series of public events organised around the East Looks West
travel writing project took place in 2009. Destination London: Writing Cities from Eastern Europe was a series of public-facing events which drew on the popular
appeal of travel writing to address both a wide general audience and
members of London's east European communities. The events were supported under
the Beacons for Public Engagement and UCL's Widening Participation
programmes. Aimed at participants within UCL, the events showcased the
results of large-scale collaborative research across the arts/humanities
and social sciences in the East Looks West project, and illustrate the potential for academic engagement with non-traditional audiences.
Project Overview: Travel Writing and Identity
The project addresses the general need to re-examine what we mean by national and regional identity in post cold-war Europe through an assessment of East European travel texts. This subject is a clear research imperative at a time when both Eastern and Western European identities are increasingly in flux, and attempts to understand the concept of Europe and its proposed political enlargement constitute a major intellectual and political concern. Research in the humanities has of course been directed at these problems. Western representations of Europe's colonial others, and of others within Europe, have been the subject of extensive analysis. Scholars have shown how the West has constructed an imaginative geography dividing and defining Europe - beginning in the 15th century, with increasing intensity (and ever more serious consequences) up to the present. Studies of the ways West looks East have focused on the literary sites in which such images were constructed (travel writing, popular fiction and academic study); on the techniques and strategies used; on the ideological and political investments at stake; on the consequences for self-image and for the 'other' of such alteritist discourses. Such researches have made a strong and innovative contribution to such diverse subjects as the history of the idea of Europe; the symbolic geography of mentalities, and the role of discourse and representation in shaping them; sites of memory and social history of place; self-image and image of the other in European society; the force, extent and limits of West European colonialist and Orientalist discourse.
However, the Orientalist critique implies that the Western construction of its others is largely a by-product of Western processes of self-definition, and tells us little about Eastern European concepts of self or understandings of Europe. The present project seeks to contribute to this debate, but also to enlarge both the documentary base and the terms of the argument. Our focus is on East European images of civilizational boundaries within Europe; the representation of self and (particularly Western, but also Eastern and internal) others; the use of, and negotiation with, Western models and images; the politics of these East European discourses. Recent movements within the humanities have questioned simplistic mappings of representation onto power, challenging colonialist and post-colonialist assumptions about the unidirectional nature of power. However, interpretations of travel and of travel writing within Europe have depended on a range of West European texts, largely in English, French and German. The one exception, studies of Russian travellers' confrontations with 'Europe', has been treated as a special case. (This project uses the existing literature on Russian encounters with the West for comparative purposes and to question Russian exceptionalism.)
By addressing a different, much wider range of texts, the project obliges a more nuanced understanding of the development of ideas of Europe's limits and divisions - and their consequences. The result will be a contribution to a more general revision of the colonialist/orientalist approach (de-homogenizing the 'colonial' subject; a more holistic approach to definitions of the West and its others, and the politics of these definitions) and to a debate on the utility of the post-colonial approach within Europe (to what extent is the discourse of post-colonialism, based on models of colonial socio-political relations, valid for the specific circumstances of West and East in Europe?).
Approaches and Aims
The following three clusters of issues frame our research:
The sociology of travel and travel writing: What kinds of East Europeans travelled in the modern period? Where did they travel? To 'The West'? Elsewhere? Who wrote about their travels? How were such writings disseminated and read? What influence did they have?
Genre and reception in travel writing: What formal and/or discursive elements constitute/determine the genre of travel writing? First-person narratives, markers of non-fictionality etc? How have these changed over time/between national literatures? What other textual genres have served as models for/have been modelled on travel writing?
Discourses and representations of identity. To what extent have East European travel writers negiotated with Western imaginings and rhetorical strategies? Is Eastern European travel writing different? What do these writings tell us about conceptions of identity in Eastern Europe, particularly on the following levels: a) conceptualization of Europe, east and west; b) particular national or regional identities; c) social identities? Can we draw general conclusions about observers' perceptions of unity and difference in Europe, over space and time?
In terms of scholarly aims, the project sets out to:
carry out interdisciplinary and comparative study of European identities and East-West divisions across national and linguistic boundaries;
insert East European perspectives on these identities and divisions into the wider debates of colonialism/post-colonialism;
contribute to a more complex understanding of these issues among specialists in East and West European history; and among the general public.
The project will be of interest to scholars, teachers and the wider
public seeking new perspectives or sources (particularly from beyond
their own area and language expertise) in the fields of: travel and
travel writing; East European literatures in translation; European
imaginative geographies; mentalities and stereotypes; regional and urban
history of Western Europe; colonial and post-colonial theory.
Links to Other Travel Writing Archives
- Online travel collections at the University of Gottingen
- University of Michigan (including some by east European authors)
The Gallica site has several collections of travels (not all by French authors):
Bryn Mawr College Library has a useful special collections bibliography
CIRVI (Centro Interuniversitario di Ricerche sul Viaggio in Italia) has a useful website with details of their editions:
The Corvey library, near Höxter in Germany, houses one of the largest collections of Romantic-era literature in the world. There is a useful catalogue of English-language travel writing in the collection
East Looks West has provided the context for a series of other associated programmes and PhD research projects at SSEES and more broadly in UCL.
Under the auspices of EuropeanaTravel - a two-year digitisation project funded by the European Union - UCL SSEES contriuted around 160,000 pages from 300 books and other works to Europeana.eu, providing comprehensive coverage of travel writing relating to Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, and Russia from 1557-1860.
In 2008-2009, the Leverhulme Trust supported the appointment of Tony White as writer-in-residence at SSEES. His project, Balkanising Bloomsbury, used creative writing in innovative ways as a means to explore writings relating to, and representations of, the Balkan region - ranging from 19th-century travel writing to the work of the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague and the mass media - and re-used this archive in order to create completely new works of fiction that cast new light on how ideas of European identity are created and perpetuated. Several of Tony's Balkanising Bloomsbury stories are published as Diffusion ebooks. There is also a UCL News podcast featuring Tony taking about Balkanising Bloomsbury.