Saturday, February 27, 2010

Expedition Artifacts

I went to London last weekend to be a fan-girl. I was there to watch a few classic writers speak. "Travel writers," we call them, though I'm not entirely comfortable with the term, which can mean anything from repackagers of tourist board propaganda to presenters of researched literary narratives.

I've long held that I'm not precisely a travel writer. I write about myself and the adventures I have when I'm on the road. Yes, I am a traveling writer. Am I travel writer? That depends on your personal definition of travel writing. Amanda aims to take back the term into the realm of legitimacy. I'm probably too tired—too beaten by the perception of travel writing as a way to get glamorous free trips in exchange for presenting the tourism board's point of view—to fight back. There's not much glamour in genuine writing, which mostly involves tons of research followed by sitting in a room for months on end while wishing you'd taken a job as a whale-guts-sorter instead. Anyway, I don't write to describe a sense of place. I write to work out what goes on in my own head when I'm presented with a crazy new situation. I'm whatever you think. Expedition writer. Travel writer. Autobiography writer. Vanity writer. All of the above, maybe.

I'm a hardcore fan of travel writing in its most classic definition. It's the great explorers that I obsess over. Mostly the British ones, who took to the unknown road in inappropriate clothing. My favorite is Shackleton, who mixed bravado and daring with a fair bit of spirit-of-the-time cluelessness.

The travel writing event I was at last weekend was at the Royal Geographic Society in London. That's the organization that has been associated with many of the great colonial-era explorers, including Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton, and Hillary.

I was pretty excited to be there in the first place, but then when I went on a brief tour of the reading room, I completely geeked out.

The librarian showed prints from Frank Hurley's "Endurance" plates, watercolors of Africa by Samuel Baker, Mary Kingsley's hat she wore while exploring West Africa, Antarctic expedition shopping lists, and old maps.

You can take a look here at some of the materials they have in the Foyle Reading Room.

No comments: