CfP: Traveling, Comparing, Narrating. Travel Narratives of the Americas from the 18th to the 20th Century
January 31 – February 2, Bielefeld University, Germany
Organizers: Julian Gärtner, Marius Littschwager
Within the interdisciplinary collaborative research center on “Practices of Comparing,” awarded to Bielefeld University in 2017, we invite scholars and researchers to participate in our symposium on the role of comparing in the dynamic processes of knowledge-production and circulation in travel narratives. More specifically, this conference focuses on the relation between traveling and comparing regarding travel accounts in and from the Americas between the 18th to the 20th century.
Alongside voyages and travels executed for the sake of exploration, research or tourism, a vast field of intersecting discourses and entangled knowledge about the world emerges in literature. Rather than presenting biographical or epoch-centered readings (Wolfzettel, Thompson) of exceptional travelers’ accounts (e.g., Lewis/Clark, Chateaubriand, Humboldt or Martí), the symposium draws attention to forms and practices of travel narratives that include both imaginary voyages by authors such as Fenimore Cooper and Verne as well as ethnographic writings by H. Michaux and Lévi-Strauss. As all genres of travel literature construct complex narratives, they come to open up and cross multiple and diverse epistemic fields. Reaching from factual travel accounts like journals, logs, itineraries or treatises to fictional narrations like novellas, short stories or tales, narratives do not only cut across artificial genre boundaries. Rather, the notion of narratives (Bal, Fludernik, White) also allows to account for larger processes of knowledge formation as well as the formation of scientific fields. Practices of comparing, therefore, represent an important point of intersection of narrative, imaginative, and epistemic figurations of world travels.
The Americas, in particular, are considered a very important contact zone (Pratt) wherein during the past centuries new patterns of experience have been related to known forms in processes of figuration, scientific endeavor, and dispute. The critical discourses disclose a general trend which dates from the late 18th century to the beginning of the early 19th century. Within this period, narrative accounts of predominantly universalist orientation and conceptions based on empirical observations concerning particular cultures crisscross within numerous discourses (e.g., anthropology/ethnography, political theory, religion, medicine, law, architecture, natural history, geography, etc.). This situation persists in travel narratives from the 19th and 20th centuries and raises further questions that will be addressed in the conference: How can these epistemological dynamics and their conditions be related to different narrative forms? How are they linked to or rely on cultural practices of comparing? Instead of taking language boundaries or geographical restraints for granted, we respond to the need for cross-disciplinary dialogue. In order to be able to detect and describe concrete practices of comparing (Culler, Chea, Radhakrishnan), we take into account different languages and translations. The organizers of the conference invite researchers to submit abstracts (250 words max.) highlighting the narrative structure and/or practices of knowledge production in various literary forms. Especially doctoral candidates as well as postdoctoral researchers are encouraged to prepare presentations (with a length of 20-25 minutes) in English.
With this international conference, we aim to initiate a transdisciplinary dialogue between scholars who do research on different narratives and genres of travel literature (in various languages) and scholars who study situations of cultural contact and/or historiographies of travel; this dialogue will be centered on the overarching topic of practices of comparing.
If you are interested in participating, please send an abstract of no more than one page to
firstname.lastname@example.org and julian.gaertner@uni-bielefeld
until September 30th 2018, detailing the role of practices of comparison for your research focus. Selected participants will be notified by October 15th 2018.
Publication is planned after the conference.
We are looking forward to your applications!
For more information on the collaborative research center go to: