Travel writing about Wales has often been embedded in accounts of travel to ‘England’ or overlooked because it served as a transit zone for travellers on their way to Ireland. This reflects a broader issue in relation to the cultural ‘invisibility’ of Wales as a minoritised nation. Even where there is interest in ‘Celtic’ nations, Wales has often been overlooked in both the artistic and critical imaginations in favour of Scotland and Ireland. The resulting invisibility in the broader European cultural context and in travel writing in particular leaves Wales as something of an elided nation, hidden between England and Ireland.
This research investigates and challenges these previous perceptions of Wales as ‘unknown’ and ‘invisible’ in European travel writing by uncovering continental Europeans’ views of Wales since 1750.
'European Travellers to Wales: 1750-2010' is a collaborative research project by Bangor University (Professor Carol Tully - Principal investigator), Swansea University (Dr Kathryn Jones - Co-investigator) and the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (Professor Heather Williams - Co-investigator).
It was awarded AHRC project funding (£420,000) to investigate the representation of Wales and ‘Welshness’ in texts by European travellers from 1750 to the present day.
The project has also collaborated with the National Library of Wales; Swansea Museum; Ceredigion Museum; Storiel Bangor; south Wales primary schools and adult learners; Seren network; Swansea City of Sanctuary; the Institute of Welsh Affairs; and Wales PEN Cymru.
Working in archives across Europe, the team unearthed a rich corpus of over 500 previously undiscovered accounts of trvel to Wales written in 15 languages, and a further 450 guidebooks in French, German and Dutch. The project’s digital database maps each journey and users can search for traits including periods, destinations, nationalities, and reasons for travel.
This original contribution to Welsh Studies makes international perceptions of Wales newly available in select translations. This study of a smaller nation hitherto minoritised within travel writing studies is paradigmatic for investigating the evolving perceptions of less historically ‘visible’ nations, e.g. Brittany, Catalonia.
The Times Higher Education [23/02/2017] commended the innovative approach of using the prism of Modern Languages-based research in the field of Celtic Studies, ‘demonstrating how modern languages increasingly help us to understand our own culture’.
Previous perceptions of Wales as ‘unknown’ and ‘invisible’ in European travel writing have been transformed by our research which uncovered continental Europeans’ views of Wales since 1750. Sharing these findings with new regional, national and international audiences in education, heritage, creative practice and cultural policy led to numerous benefits.
Our research has global reach due to the development of digital heritage research tools: beneficiaries of our database span 6 continents and 70 countries, and international Higher Education Institutions have adopted it as a research tool (e.g. a Leipzig University postgraduate course on ‘Wales in Travel Writing’).
Educational beneficiaries encompass primary school pupils and teachers who used our bilingual activity e-books, a pioneering Welsh Government secondary schools’ network (Seren) and adult learners. Swansea University’s outreach work led to increased awareness, understanding and changed educational practices. These new resources and perspectives inform national policy initiatives valuing ethically informed citizenship and cultural diversity (e.g. the Donaldson Review’s four purposes), and have changed understandings of the experiences of refugees and exiles in Wales.
Our research on travel texts and visual art benefited museums and galleries by generating new display content in the interactive EuroVisions of Wales exhibition with public talks and workshops, and visitor responses demonstrate its socio-cultural benefit of enhancing public understanding of Wales’s relationship with Europe.
The project has benefited creative industries and political debate in Wales and beyond through inspiring and commissioning new travel writing, and working with external non-profit organisations including Wales PEN Cymru. The European Travellers to Wales project inspired the ‘Belonging to Wales’ series in the Welsh Agenda magazine of the independent think tank the Institute of Welsh Affairs. Our research and the creation of new, multilingual literary works on Wales have thereby given a platform to underrepresented and marginalised voices, which in turn help others, including young people, to think and act more confidently as creative and ethically informed citizens.