Travel, Theory and Space

Module Description

At various points throughout history people have left environments that are familiar, understood and comfortable in order to travel. While the rationales for such journeys are diverse: sometimes forced, sometimes chosen, sometimes joyful, often imbued with sorrow, the tension between leaving and staying remains a powerful theme not only in music, art, literature and film but also in philosophy and cultural theory. The purpose of this module is to examine both the tales various travellers tell as well as the creative and intellectual energies that such journeys have inspired.

At its heart, this module examines contemporary ideas in philosophy, cultural theory and literature through the genre of travel. The course is organized thematically around case studies that broadly explore the tension between the seemingly static nature of space, place and boundary versus the seeming fluidity of movement, change and trespass. Themes include: holiday and escape, the textual journey, travel and disappointment, exploration and calculation. The reading list will include actual texts from travellers, academic work (in geography and elsewhere) on travel, fictional travels (such as those found in novels and film), as well as a number of philosophical and theoretical musings on the nature of voyage and movement. In this manner the module explores the different ways writers and thinkers have engaged in the practice of travel and how they have drawn upon those practices to make determinations about the world’s geography and their place within it.  You should leave the course with an understanding not only of how various people in various places engaged with, reacted to and thought about the unfamiliar, but more importantly how these engagements facilitated a set of ideas, concepts and philosophies that are interesting beyond the particular context of their journey.

Please be aware that the issues raised in this course are by nature contemplative, abstract and philosophical.  While the course does include various analyses of travel itself (e.g. tourism, empire, conquest, etc.), its main concern is the ideas surrounding the practice of moving, seeing, wandering and imagining. In this sense, the module seeks to broaden and deepen the student’s understanding of the cultural geographic world by exploring the ideas that exploration and travel elicit.

Learning Outcomes: 

The desired learning outcomes for this module are the following: (1) an ability to ask interesting and original questions for research on a self-selected topic; (2) an ability to describe, assess and synthesize significant concepts and ideas in philosophy and cultural theory; (3) an ability to apply theoretical ideas to an empirical situation; and finally (4) an ability to write coherent and well organised essays.

The design of the course is predicated on the expectation that students take responsibility for their learning and actively use and learn from the materials I provide.  Students are not expected to leave this module knowing all there is to know about travel writing and at no point will you be asked to rehearse the material covered in lecture.  However, you are expected to use the material provided to explore your own research interests, devise your own research questions and ultimately write your own essay on a topic that intrigues you.


Lectures: The aim of the lectures is to tie together various readings and authors related to the theme in question. The lectures situate and explain the readings by putting the issues they raise within a broader theoretical and philosophical context.

Reading: This module is a reading module. Students should expect to read the assigned readings attached to each discussions as well as 2-3 travel books during the first 6-8 weeks of the semester. This translates into about 4-5 hours of reading per week for the average reader.  Once students decide on a topic their reading will become more focused and less intense. But deciding on a topic means doing a lot of exploratory reading up front.

Discussion:  At the end of each session in weeks 13-15 you will be given a worksheet that includes a short reading that relates in some manner to issues raised in lecture.  The worksheet will also include a reading list as well as a number of discussion questions.  You will be expected to use the readings, the text and the questions, to prepare a number of ideas for a discussion the following week.  The format for the discussion will be small groups of 5-6 that I will circulate among in order to listen in and contribute.  Each discussion section relates to the previous week’s lecture.  This gives you time to familiarise yourself with the readings as well as think about the questions provided.  The aim of the discussion is to clarify the lecture as well as help generate ideas for potential essay questions and topics.

Clinics: As you will note from the schedule, the first half of the term is dedicated to lecture and discussion, while the second half is dedicated to students developing their individual projects. The clinics provide extra time for students to talk to me about their projects and the arguments they are trying to make. The clinics work like appointment hours and can be booked via the Appointment link above

In addition, to open-appointment hours I set aside 10 lecture hours for individual discussion and project development. I set aside this time because I believe one-on-one discussion is the best way for students to develop their projects effectively. While you will find good guidance for the assessment in the Assessment Handbook, the most effective way to develop a good project is through individual discussion.

Workload and contact

There are 11 direct contact hours for this module (including lectures and seminars) and 20 optional contact hours (clinics and appointment hours). For the direct contact hours the breakdown is 8 hours of lecture and 3 hours of discussion.

In terms of workload you should expect to spend 11 hours in class, 24 hours reading (minimum) and 165 hours (22 days) on the assessment (which includes writing and further reading).