Is it lack of imagination that makes us come to imagined places, not just stay at home?Elizabeth Bishop
In this section you’ll come to understand the conventions of travel writing, learn a bit about the history of the genre, question why people are compelled to travel – and to write about it – and investigate both what it means to be a tourist and the impact of tourism on places in the world.
You’ll also investigate the overlap between language and literature that exists in the wide and varied genre of travel writing. You’ll read non-fiction texts that feel like stories and see imaginary scenes presented as fact. You’ll learn to decode elements of travel writing and question texts more closely, finding analysis points and learning to evaluate various pieces of writing. These kinds of skills underpin your success in Paper 1 at the end of your course. Begin your study by reading The Travel Narrative from the list of articles below, and then choose one or two more pieces of wider reading to enrich your study:
- The Travel Narrative (IB Textbook)
- The Truth About Tribal Tourism (Rough Guide Blog)
- On the Ground (articles by Nicolas Kristof)
- The Most Inspiring Talks on Travel (Tedtalks)
- Travels with Charley (John Steinbeck extracts)
Class Activity: fiction or non-fiction?
As you will have learned by now, some travel writing is a peculiar kind of non-fiction writing that might make use of conventions normally associated with literary works or works of fiction. Read through this booklet of fiction and non-fiction extracts. First; can you tell which extracts are literary fiction and which are literary non-fiction? How can you tell? Second; mark up the passages with annotations identifying conventions of travel writing that you have learned. You might also like to look out for elements of the extracts that you think are non-conventional and investigate the purpose of different pieces of writing: to find the self; curiosity or to discover the ‘other’; religious or spiritual travel; search for roots; to be informed. Refer to The Travel Narrative (above) for guidance on these elements of travel writing.
Learner Portfolio 1
Do you love the outdoors yourself? Have you ever grasped the bleakness that exists when the natural world is destroyed? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ opinion columnist Nicolas Kristof, from The New York Times, might strike a chord with you. He has been writing about the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for years now and is a prolific and highly respected columnist for the New York Times. Common topics in his columns are the environment, human rights and charity.
Read a small collection of articles curated from his blog ‘On the Ground’ (above) and discuss them with your classmates and teacher. You could use the following four questions to guide your discussion and to structure your learner portfolio entry for this topic:
- What arguments does Kristof make about nature, the natural world and hiking?
- How does Kristof discuss nature, the natural world, and hiking and why? Identify 5 different techniques or stylistic elements of his writing and consider their effect on the reader.
- Apart from nature, what else does Kristof write about and why?
Learner Portfolio 2
Watch Livinia Spalding’s Tedtalk (above) and visit the travel blogs she edits and curates. Browse one or two of the pieces she has published and consider how the stories you read reflect the purposes of travel and conventions of travel writing you have learned about in this unit.
Then, as per Lavinia’s challenge in the talk above, write your own literary travel story, inspired by a place you’ve been or a person you’ve met on a journey you have taken. Try to write a piece of literary non-fiction, not to make up a story, and through your writing make the purpose of your travel clear: to find the self; discover the ‘other’; become informed; search for your roots; a religious or spiritual journey.
Areas of Exploration Guiding Conceptual Question
‘Cultural practices’ refers to traditional or customary practices of a particular ethnic, national or cultural group. They can be considered in the same way as symbolism in literary texts; physical manifestations of abstract beliefs and values. One reason we travel is to discover the beliefs and values of different people, as practiced in rites and traditions which have often been passed down from generation to generation. Before you work through the resource below, can you think of any practices that are special in your culture? These may include religious, medical, artistic, culinary, political, family or any other behaviour that reveals underlying beliefs and values:
Paper 1 Text Type Focus: travel writing
At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Travel writing is an extremely fluid genre and you could be presented with a text that contains a variety of tropes (such as maps, photographs, itineraries, reported or direct speech, humour, metaphors… the list goes on) and may even share similarities with literary texts. Work with these texts separately, making sure to note down the various tropes of each text type. Add the texts to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. Finally, you can test your Paper 1 analysis skills using the sample paper below:
- Enter Tasmania’s Labyrinth
- Cycling Tips
- Taj Mahal
- Long Enough in Jo’burg
- Paper 1 Practice: Travel Tales
- Paper 1 Practice: Taj Mahal
Body of Work: Alison Wright Photography
Alison Wright is an author, photographer and speaker who has published several collections of photo-essays including Faces of Hope: Children of a Changing World and The Spirit of Tibet: Portrait of a Culture. Her most recent collection from 2018 is titled Human Tribe. Her mission is to document endangered cultures and traditions from around the world, including raising awareness of human rights and other issues. Alison has won numerous awards and accolades including the Dorothea Lange Award in Documentary Photography for her photographs of child labor in Asia and a two-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award. She was named a National Geographic Traveler of the Year in 2013. You can explore Alison’s complete body of work here.
The presentation of beliefs and values through images is a powerful tool that can help preserve minority cultures in the face of globalisation and help to balance historical injustice by educating those who have lost touch with the past or with alternative ways of living. Texts of all kinds – written, spoken, visual – can help protect cultural heritage that might otherwise be lost. Alison Wright’s work can be seen in the wider context of cultural preservation, an important global issue in our increasingly homogenised and globalised world.
Towards Assessment: Individual Oral
“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt:
Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)“
Alison Wright’s photography would make a good text to consider using in your Individual Oral. The named author would be ‘Alison Wright’ and you can consider her work in light of the Global Issues of Culture, Identity and Community or equally Beliefs, Values and Education. You could easily pair her work with any literary text that reveals aspects of culture or reflects cultural concerns, such as the disappearance of traditional cultural practices. Speak with your teacher about ideas for pairing texts, or use the suggestions below as a starting point:
- Broken April by Ismail Kadare – you might like to consider the idea that some cultural traditions are worth preserving, while others should rightly be consigned to the dustbin of history. An apt comparison might be found in chapters 4 or 7 of this novel, in which Kadare subtly implies the Kanun is a dying tradition. Alternatively you could explore the symbolism of Diana’s eyes in light of the way Wright focuses on eyes in her newest collection Human Tribe.
- Keats’ Odes – suffused with the imagery of drink, drugs and consumption, Keats’ poetry reveals attitudes towards medication that might seem strange to a reader today. You could focus on Ode to Melancholy or Ode to a Nightingale in order to explore this idea.
- Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw – the play is awash with peculiar Victorian mores revealing all kinds of beliefs and attitudes about class, poverty, prudery, morality and more. Doolittle’s speeches, Mrs Higgins’ at-home or conversations between Higgins, Pickering and Mrs Pearce could all be passages that you might like to select for this activity.
- Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga – you might like to look at the processional way the village greets Babamakuru when he arrives in his cavalcade of motor cars, or the rituals surrounding the welcome feast in his honour, both in chapter 3 of this novel.
Towards Assessment: HL Essay or Extended Essay
If you enjoyed this section of work, and find the topic of travel writing interesting, you might consider using ideas from this section to write your Higher Level Essay or even choosing your Extended Essay.
You have no doubt encountered several ideas that will lend themselves to an extended study, not least in Alison Wright’s Body of Work. You could extend your research beyond Human Tribe to include some of her other published collections. Angles of investigation might include: to what extent you think she is successful in her aim of bridging the gap between different cultures; whether her photography constitutes a modern form of travel writing; to what extent her photography reveals the identity of her subjects or whether you feel the photographs form or impose an identity onto the people they present.
As you have discovered, travel writing is an incredibly fluid genre which is hard to pin down. Any two pieces of travel writing might look, read and feel differently. Additionally, the travel narrative has evolved over time, in part thanks to the increasing popularity of travel itself as a kind of cultural practice. You could begin your work with an investigation into the generic conventions of travel, and try to write a piece that captures the essence of what you believe to be ‘travel writing’ or investigate how travel writing has changed over time.
If you would like to conduct a literary investigation, you could read the non-fiction works of a writer such as John Steinbeck (Tales with Charley; Once There Was A War) or Bill Bryson (e.g. Notes From a Small Island; A Walk in the Woods). Take your thoughts and ideas to your teacher and see if you can work up a suitable angle of approach for this extended task.
Categories:Time and Space