Brief History of Travel Writing


Early travel writing can be found during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and was written from the perspective of individuals in poetry and story narrative. During Classical and Medieval times, content of “travel writing” would be a record of quests, containing a religious focus, and do not tell much about a destination. They did talk about the cultures and the people when discovering new worlds, and militaristic purposes kept records of these new worlds as well. Marco Polo’s works are a perfect example of travel writing from these times. Travel writing later became told more through a personal narrative, including emotions that people felt from the environment around them. They reasoned why people should visit these destinations. James Cook’s diaries became published and received the same acclaim that an international best seller has today. Stories like Gulliver’s Travels is another example of travel writing containing a fictional aspect of story telling.

Travel writing today has been recognized at the scholarly level as there are courses on the subject in university and college programs. The International Society for Travel Writing had their first conference at the University of Minnesota in 1997.

DSC_0015With travel blogs, social media, and travel books being sold, it is easier to get information about destinations and recommended activities than ever before. They communicate a strong feeling of being able to know what a place is being like with out ever having been there. Tried and true types of documentation overtime has been personal correspondences through letters and postcards, and now social media. A staff favorite in our current exhibit, “Nora’s Suitcase,” is a postcard from Nora aboard the S.S.” Empress of Scotland” on her initial voyage for the Overseas Education League dated June 23rd 1926. Other items on display range from larger books about destinations, to small pamphlets with area maps.

Visit for Nora’s Suitcase for more information about travel writing, on until August 13th. We would love to hear your stories about travel, and how times have changed!

A more in-depth version of the history of Travel Writing can be found at