This essay explores the responses of early modern travel-writers, primarily English, to the Pyramids at Giza. By examining a series of surveys, scholarly and otherwise, it proposes that the Pyramids became sites of overwhelming curiosity for seventeenth-century travellers. It also explores the literary, antiquarian and mathematical influences behind this curiosity, the influences which resulted in the emergence of an architectural and mensural approach to those three iconic Egyptian monuments.
Seventeenth-Century Surveys of the Pyramids at Giza
Museums everywhere now display fragments of their own past displays, often in the form of ancestral cabinets presented as autobiographical introductions. What is the meaning of this introspective and retrospective “return to curiosity” in museography? Reconnoitering a fistful of iconic museums in and around London and Madrid, I suggest that the all-encompassing metatrope of curiosity begs a deeper question: What is the museum a museum of?
Curating between Medicine, Life and Art
This article considers a curiosity-driven approach to curating focused on material culture that visitors encounter in physical spaces. Drawing on research into historical curiosity cabinets, it explores how a contemporary notion of curiosity has been put into practice in the new breed of culturally enlightened museums exploring interdisciplinary approaches to medicine, health, life, and art. Based on an inaugural professorial address at Copenhagen University, it reflects on exhibition projects there and at the Wellcome Collection in London. Museums are institutional machines that generate social understanding from material things. Their physical spaces influence how we learn, think, and feel in public; their material collections feed our comprehension, imagination, and emotions; and induce attentive behavior in curators and visitors.
Jack Hunter, Annelin Eriksen, Jon Mitchell, Mattijs van de Port, Magnus Course, Nicolás Panotto, Ruth Barcan, David M. R. Orr, Girish Daswani, Piergiorgio Di Giminiani, Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Sofía Ugarte, Ryan J. Cook, Bettina E. Schmidt and Mylene Mizrahi
contrast to the predominantly middle-class and counter-cultural New Age, its core demographic was and continues to be America’s conservative heartlands (p. 78). It is always fun to cherry-pick historical curiosities, especially medical ones. My favorite
Charles Burdett and Derek Duncan (eds), Cultural Encounters – European Travel Writing in the 1930s John Masterson
Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs (eds) The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing Charles Forsdick
Nigel Leask, Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing, 1770–1840 Betty Hagglund
Kylie Message, Masaaki Morishita, Conal McCarthy and Lee Davidson
BOOK REVIEW ESSAY
Object Stories: Artifacts and Archaeologists. Edited by Steve Brown, Anne Clarke, and Ursula Frederick. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2015.
Public Properties: Museums in Imperial Japan. Mariko Aso. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.
The Return of Curiosity: What Museums Are Good for in the Twenty-First Century. Nicholas Thomas. London: Reaktion Books, 2016.
Cities, Museums and Soft Power. Edited by Gail Dexter Lord and Ngaire Blankenberg. Washington, DC: AAM Press, 2015.
The book of Esther, a popular tale of group loyalty in the face of hostility, is read on Purim, the spring-time carnival feast of revelry, fancy-dress, role reversal, charity and drinking. The purpose of this paper is to ask whether the book would be as popular if we thought carefully about its depiction of Jewish relations with host cultures. Should we discount this as an historical curiosity? Or is it essential to what the book and the feast have to offer?
Accounts of Genocide in Travel Writing
The massacre sites of Rwanda have become, like Auschwitz or Ground Zero, forms of museums preserved in remembrance. In 1995, Philip Gourevitch traveled to Rwanda to see them, explaining that he wanted to gain some understanding of the recent atrocities. Gourevitch forces himself to look because this enables him to present a detailed journalistic account but, more uncomfortably, he is satisfying his own curiosity, as tourists do. Dervla Murphy's Visiting Rwanda (1998) is a similarly intense account of time spent with NGOs, visiting survivors, and hearing excruciating accounts of the genocide. Such graphic accounts of time spent in a war zone raise issues concerning curiosity about death and sites of atrocity. The writers must address the issue of the extent of their own curiosity and also demonstrate that they have a reason to publish such sensitive matter. Gourevitch and Murphy, therefore, must be aware of a difficult paradox in their work: the intensity of events represented in their narratives makes their accounts more pressing but, as a result, they may be said to profit from the conflict.
Katherine Hennessey and Margaret Litvin
When the first Critical Survey special issue on Arab Shakespeares (19, no. 3, Winter 2007) came out nearly a decade ago, the topic was a curiosity. There existed no up-to-date monograph in English on Arab theatre, let alone on Arab Shakespeare. Few Arabic plays had been translated into English. Few British or American theatregoers had seen a play in Arabic. In the then tiny but fast-growing field of international Shakespeare appropriation studies (now ‘Global Shakespeare’), there was a great post-9/11 hunger to know more about the Arab world but also a lingering prejudice that Arab interpretations of Shakespeare would necessarily be derivative or crude, purely local in value.
Travel, Travel Writing, and Old Age
This article offers preliminary thoughts on travel writing from a gerontological perspective. Gender, race, and sexuality have provided important analytical frames for travel writing studies, but age has yet to function as a topic or point of reference. Through a consideration of five travel books by respected modern authors—Jan Morris, Dervla Murphy, V. S. Naipaul, Paul Theroux, and Colin Thubron—the article asks what motivates travel writers to stay “on the road” into their seventies and beyond, and what the distinctive features of travel narratives written at this life stage might be. The article aims to demonstrate the intrinsic fascination of travel books in which a strong abiding curiosity about the world coexists with an acute—and often melancholy—awareness of the passing of time and personal mortality.