Michael G. Brennan, English Travellers to Venice: 1450-1600, London: The Hakluyt Society, 2022.

By Michael G Brennan, Professor of Renaissance Studies at the School of English, University of Leeds.

English Travellers to Venice: 1450-1600 originally developed from accounts of travellers to Venice in my two earlier Hakluyt Society books: The Travel Diary of Robert Bargrave Levant Merchant 1647-1656 (1999) and The Origins of the Grand Tour. The Travels of Robert Montagu, Lord Mandeville, 1649-1651, William Hammond, 1655-1658, and Banaster Maynard, 1660-1663 (2004). As I was editing these two volumes, I became aware that there were many other, earlier accounts of English travellers to Venice which either had never been edited or were not readily available to modern readers.

Hence, I began to research the period 1450-1600 and was increasingly interested – and surprised – by the sheer wealth, diversity and interest of manuscript and printed materials from these earlier times. I also decided to include individuals whose experiences were recorded in letters, diaries, intelligence reports and other media, in the case of Sir Henry Unton (c.1558-96) a large biographical painting recording various key moments from his life, including his time at Venice and Padua (which was otherwise unrecorded).

Sir Henry Unton by Unknown artist / oil on panel, circa 1596 / NPG 710 / © National Portrait Gallery, London

With reference to paintings and the images most of us know of Venice as a city floating on water, I felt it was important to give this book as strong a visual impact as possible. Hence, it includes 26 colour illustrations of scenes from Venice and paintings by Bellini, Titian, del Piombo, Veronese, Tintoretto, and other artists. 45 black and white engravings are also reproduced, many from the remarkable collections of Venetian engravings by Giacomo Franco (1550-1620), recording perspectives on daily Venetian life, fashions, its renowned annual carnival, major buildings and republican government. Finally, along with two modern maps of the city of Venice at this period and its possessions in the eastern Mediterranean, 14 colour illustrations are included of maps of Venice dating from the 1480s to the late sixteenth century.

The travellers themselves form a diverse group, including pilgrims, scholars, ambassadors, political and religious exiles, young men travelling to broaden their educational experiences (as a precursor to the eighteenth-century Grand Tour), members of the aristocracy, historians, intelligence gatherers and spies, and even an English sailor who had been enslaved in the galleys of the Turkish fleet. The earliest account dates from c.1454 and is a short description from a primarily medical manuscript, ‘The Physician’s Handbook’; and the latest describes the experiences in the mid-1590s of an Anglo-Irish Protestant Henry Piers as he travelled to Rome where he converted to Catholicism.

Two of the longest, factually informative and still influential accounts of Venice are by the historian William Thomas, whose The History of Italy, published in 1549, offered English readers the first meticulously detailed account of the city’s history, architecture, cultural life, political and religious institutions, and commercial importance as the hub of a maritime trading empire. Over two generations later, Fynes Moryson published in 1617 (but recalling his observations at Venice during the 1590s) his travel memoire An Itinerary, rich in specific detail and local descriptions, including churches, the Rialto, the Jewish Ghetto and Arsenal.

Cover image of English Travellers to Venice 1450 –1600 (Routledge, 2022)

Another fascinating account is by William Wey (1405/7-c.1476) who recorded in his ‘Itineraries’, written in Latin and late-Medieval English, his pilgrimages between 1457 and 1462 to Rome and Jerusalem. Like the accounts by Thomas and Moryson, Wey’s manuscripts are rich in practical information and personal observations. They were clearly compiled not only as a record of his own experiences but also as a guide for future pilgrims who would pass through Venice on their way either to Rome or the Holy Land. In fact, one of the earliest printed guidebooks, Informacon for Pylgymes unto the Holy Land (c.1498-1500), draws extensively on Wey’s geographical expertise and practical advice, including his lists of essential personal items for travellers, how to find a comfortable berth on the Venetian pilgrimage galleys, and how to change currency as one passed through various parts of Western Europe and the Mediterranean.

Two of the most interesting later accounts relate to the extensive stay at Venice and Padua of Sir Philip Sidney between November 1573 and August 1574; and in 1575-76 Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who rented a house at Venice, using it as a base to travel widely in northern Italy. Both Sidney and Oxford were highly educated individuals who could read and speak Italian and, as the sixteenth century progressed, this volume demonstrates how the acquisition of foreign languages was becoming increasingly important to English scholars, churchmen, ambassadors and politicians.

Stephen Powle (c.1553-1630) was educated at Oxford University and roomed with the young Walter Raleigh when he was studying at the Middle Temple in London. He had travelled widely in Europe during the 1580s and entered the service of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in about 1585. He also knew Queen Elizabeth’s ‘spymaster’ Sir Francis Walsingham and in March 1587 Powle was dispatched to Venice to act as an undercover intelligence gatherer for Burghley and Walsingham. Of course, this was a key moment in Anglo-Spanish relations as fears of a Spanish invasion of England were escalating. Powle’s letters – or strictly speaking intelligence reports – contained a wealth of information about not only Venetian life but also European politics and the Spanish threat.

Following this volume’s account of Powle’s experiences at Venice is an analysis of Venetian intelligence reports from its various foreign ambassadors about the build-up to the Spanish Armada in 1588. From these official documents, it becomes clear that the Venetian intelligence network and secret service was the most sophisticated, wide-ranging and effective during the late-sixteenth century. It is also apparent that Venice regarded Spanish imperialism as a direct threat to its own political and economic wellbeing; and it is clear that some of the secret information gathered by Venetians about the preparations of the Spanish fleet filtered back to Walsingham and Burghley, via such resourceful and courageous figures as Stephen Powle.

This volume offers much more than the mere sampling offered above. It includes many other accounts of Venice relating, for example, to the travels (1458-60) of the courtier, John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester; the scholar and humanist Thomas Linacre who was based at Venice between 1492/3 and 1497; early-sixteenth century pilgrims such as Sir Richard Guildford, Thomas Larke and Sir Richard Torkington; the Catholic exile Cardinal Pole during the 1520s; Edmund Harvell, an influential businessman and English agent at Venice from the 1520s to the 1550s; the educationalist Roger Ascham who only visited Venice for a few days in 1552 but passionately denounced it in his The Schoolmaster (1570) as a corrupting den of sexual immorality and lewdness; Arthur Throckmorton a young Protestant from a strongly Catholic family whose personal notebook has survived, recording his daily activities at Venice in 1581; and Sir Henry Wotton, renowned as King James I’s Ambassador to Venice during the early seventeenth century, who first visited the city in 1591.

To conclude, although this collection provides a rich and diverse sampling of the experiences of English visitors to Venice during the second half of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it can offer only a fragmentary impression of how numerous other visitors at this period must have viewed the city and its centrality to European politics, religion and culture. The impressions and memories of many thousands of other little known or anonymous Englishmen – and it is regrettable that no accounts of English women at Venice during this period seem to have survived – are now lost because no physical evidence or written records of their travels between 1450 and 1600 have survived.

Michael G. Brennan, English Travellers to Venice: 1450-1600, London: The Hakluyt Society, 2022, xxxiv + 434.

The Archive of the Hakluyt Society at the British Library

We are delighted to announce that the archive of the Hakluyt Society is now catalogued as part of the India Office Private Papers and available to researchers at the British Library.  You can read more about the Society archive and its place in the BL’s collections on their Blog.

The archive contains papers relating to the running of the Society, including signed Council Minutes, Committee papers, administrative records and financial papers, and correspondence and other papers generated by the work of the Society’s various Honorary Secretaries. Descriptions of the archive can be found via the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue, and researchers can consult material in their Asian and African Studies Reading Room. 

Mss Eur F594/1/3-4: Hakluyt Society Council Minutes, 1965-1987.

A special thank you to Lesley Shapland, Cataloguer, India Office Records, for the detailed British Library Blog post about the Hakluyt Society Archive.

‘Decolonising Travel Studies: Rethinking the Study of Travel Writing about Africa’

by Kevin Molloy

In November 2021 the University of Warwick hosted the Hakluyt Society Symposium on Decolonising Travel Studies: Sources and Approaches, organised to mark the Society’s 175th anniversary. The symposium featured a student-led panel composed of four History graduates from the University of Warwick, who presented the outcomes of research projects they had undertaken as part of the university’s Undergraduate Research Support Scheme (URSS). In this blog post, one of the student researchers, Kevin Molloy, presents his analysis of Hakluyt Society publications with a geographical focus on Africa.

It was reaffirmed in the Hakluyt Society’s 2020 annual report that its main objective remains the research and editing of international travel records to educate, and make rare travel narratives accessible to, the ‘public’.[1] I say reaffirmed because this objective has guided the Society since 1847. Analysing how editors of the Society’s Main Series have achieved this objective reveals what the Society’s capacity to innovate its practices is.[2] In this blog I will analyse published accounts of travel in Africa to show how the Society has been innovative in developing its research practices and academic focuses, though in a mostly incremental way. The Society’s readership has typically gained access to knowledge about Africa through European accounts, whilst African experiences and expertise has not tended to be made accessible to the Society’s reading ‘public’. Based on my findings and its implications, I end by proposing a number of steps the Society could take to advance a decolonising agenda.

            My analysis is based on a survey of published accounts related to Africa in the Society’s Main Series, which I conducted as part of an undergraduate research project at the University of Warwick. The blog consists of three parts. Section one highlights the Society’s dynamic innovations. The diversification of editors, such as the incorporation of female authors from 1909, reflects the Society’s willingness to develop its practices to achieve the publication of rare, educational, and accessible travel literature. Similarly, the adaptation of travel accounts, or the research, publication, and translation of authors of different geographical and ethnic origin, shows the Society’s commitment to presenting its ‘public’ with new histories. When examining African authors specifically, this practice dates to the publication of Leo Africanus’s History and Description of Africa (1895).[3] Section two is concerned with the Society’s more incremental innovations, specifically in relation to ‘travels of Africa’. I use the term ‘travels of Africa’ to denote a Main Series volume which lists a destination in Africa in its title, contents, or in the volume’s description on the Society’s online bibliography.[4] Further, I use the term ‘incremental’ to describe the gradual but modest changes in the publication of ‘travels of Africa’, as Eurocentric accounts continue to predominate the Society’s publications related to travel in Africa. Section three outlines potential steps to contribute to a decolonising agenda.[5] For instance, decolonisation could manifest as the incorporation of European and African accounts together in future ‘travels of Africa’ publications. Furthermore, decolonisation can be the promotion of African academics to be international representatives of the Society. By adopting these steps, the Society can strengthen African voices amongst its corpus, and amongst its academic body.

            Over 175 years the Society has proven itself to be adaptable and innovative in its pursuit of publishing accessible, rare, and educational travel literature. Dorothy Middleton’s early history of the Society (1847-1923) recognised this by emphasising the Society’s inclusion of women, such as Dame Bertha Philpott, as Main Series volume editors.[6] More recently, Roy Bridges emphasised the Society’s publication of non-British travel narratives. The Society had published 166 editions of European travel by 2014.[7] The tradition of publishing European, rather than just British, accounts dates back to the Society’s founder, William Desborough Cooley, an armchair geographer who recognised the value of non-British sources at a time when overseas records were viewed sceptically by British academics.[8] Bridges also noted the Society’s continued adaptation of non-European records.[9] The publication of Jacob Wainwright’s travel, a Black African who recorded the journey of David Livingstone’s body from central Africa to Zanzibar, is one recent example. Yet, while the Society has proven itself to be innovative in these areas, it has only incrementally changed its practices in others.

            Seventy-nine Main Series volumes list a destination in Africa in its title, contents, or in the volume’s description, meaning that twenty-four per cent of the Hakluyt Society’s publications fit within my category of ‘travels of Africa’. Whilst this statistic illustrates the Society’s commitment to publishing international travel accounts, eighty-seven per cent of the ‘travels of Africa’ were adapted from European accounts.[10] Just five African authors have been published in the Main Series. These findings suggest that the Society’s public have historically learnt about travel in Africa through mainly European accounts. European travellers in comparison have had more opportunities to shift opinions of Africa amongst the corpus, and subsequently, amongst the public too. A discrepancy therefore emerges when one considers that the opportunities for Africans to contest Eurocentric narratives within the corpus are minimal. Further, all seventy-nine volumes were mainly adapted from written European manuscripts and fifty-two of these volumes focused on accounts of imperialist or missionary enterprises. For instance, Europeans in West Africa, 1540-1560 (1942) is indicative of this trend because the publication recounted histories of Portuguese, Castilian, and British colonial trade and settlement using a collection of written documents.[11] Resultingly, differing source types, such as oral sources, are largely neglected. Publishing more ‘Travels of Africa’ is welcome, but the Society would do well to consider the histories and perspectives these sources do and don’t convey. Otherwise, maintaining current practices will perpetuate an imperially focused, and largely European, corpus.

            The Society’s publication of Jacob Wainwright’s travel diary in 2007 marked an innovative step for the Society because it was the first publication that featured ‘a [B]lack African traveller who recorded an exploration’.[12] The once enslaved, then liberated and mission educated, traveller offered a unique travel entry which differed from earlier Main Series volumes on Africa, such as Duarte Barbosa’s Description of the Coast of East Africa (1866) or the journal of Vasco da Gama’s first voyage (1898).[13] Whilst Barbosa’s and Da Gama’s accounts maintained the Society’s commitment to publishing international travel, as these accounts were adapted from written European records they offered only a limited window onto the more complex narratives that could be told. In contrast, the adaptation of Wainwright’s personal written records, as well as a series of photographs and sketches taken by historical actors of differing ethnic and geographical origin to Wainwright, came together to create a more complex and accessible account of travel in East Africa and Britain.

            Recent Main Series publications such as Pedro Paez’s History of Ethiopia (2011) and James A. Grant’s Nile Expedition (2018) represent more incremental changes in the publishing of accounts of travels in Africa.[14] Both volumes are based solely on European records, which limits the broader histories that these volumes could tell. The volume regarding Grant’s expedition (1860-1863) included 147 expedition sketches and photographs, which produced a visually complex representation of the Upper Niger Valley, but accorded little space to African agency. By comparing the adaptations of Wainwright’s, Paez’s, and Grant’s accounts, it can be suggested that whilst a European framework remains predominant within the corpus, the potential for including multiple source types and authors of differing geographical and ethnic origins has already been shown. Therefore, to mediate the power discrepancy already outlined, and which continues to be perpetuated in recent texts, a decolonial approach would require more African sources to be read alongside existing European ones.

            Such an approach might be extended to the Society’s representative posts. Whilst member lists show that the Society’s public is international, and indeed global, a wider recognition of this fact might be achieved by the appointment of new International Representatives of the Society across the African continent. Currently, the Society has one representative for North Africa and none for any nation in Sub-Saharan Africa.[15] Promoting African academics to the position of international representatives could diversify the public by encouraging overseas subscribership, make African academics and archives more accessible due to proximity, and develop the decolonial aspect of the Society’s academic activities by sharing expertise.[16] For instance, academic staff of Cape Town University became international leaders, practitioners, and innovators of educational decolonisation during the height of the Rhodes Must Fall movement.[17] The promotion of African academics to the position of International Representatives of the Society can prove invaluable for the purposes of decolonisation by providing expertise in replacing colonial practices by postcolonial ones. As such, new international representatives could instigate critical debates regarding who the Society’s ‘public’ is and discern how best to choose, research, and edit rare accounts of travel.[18]

            When viewing the Society’s existing list through a postcolonial lens, one can see that Main Series volumes on travel in Africa have predominantly featured imperial European authors to the exclusion of differing source types. Yet, by reflecting on the Main Series and the Society’s broader educational objective, it becomes clear that there is ample potential for, and indeed relatively minor obstacles to, implementing a decolonial approach.

Illustration 1. Table of editions published by the Hakluyt Society by Author. Retrieved from Roy Bridges, ‘The Literature of Travel and Exploration: The Work of the Hakluyt Society’, The Journal of the Hakluyt Society, (2014), 9.
Illustration 2. Two graphs depicting the number of volumes distinguished by ‘travels of Africa’ and ‘Other Volumes’ published in the Hakluyt Society’s Main Series. The subsequent bar graph divides ‘Travels of Africa’ by African and ‘Other’ authors.

[1] Anon, ‘The Hakluyt Society: Annual Report and Financial Statements for the Year Ended 31 December 2020’, The Hakluyt Society, 31 December 2020, p. 4. According to the report, ‘[t]he object of the Society is to advance education by publishing accurate and reliable records of travel, exploration and discovery and thereby promote public understandings of the stages by which different parts of the world and their different societies have been brought into contact with one another’. The Hakluyt Society is referred to as ‘the Society’ henceforward.

[2] The ‘Main Series’ is defined in this essay as all the texts printed within the Society’s First Series (1847 – 1899), its Second Series (1899 – 2000), and its Third Series (1999 – present). This understanding of what is incorporated into the Society’s ‘Main Series’ excludes texts published in its ‘Extra Series’.

[3] Robert Brown (edt), The History and Description of Africa and of the Notable Things therein contained, written by Al-Hassan Ibn Mohammed Al-Wezax Al-Fasi, a Moor, baptised as Giovanni Leone, but better known as Leo Africanus. Done into English in the year 1600, by John Pory, Volume 1 (London and New York : Routledge, 2016 ). Proquest Ebook Central. [accessed 18 March 2022].

[4] For a full list of the Society’s Main Series see Anon, ‘The Hakluyt Society Bibliography: a resource for geographical discovery & exploration of books’, The Hakluyt Society, 2021 <https://www.hakluyt.com/hakluyt-society-bibliography/&gt; [accessed 24 September 2021].

[5] Mia Liyanage, ‘Miseducation: decolonising curricula, culture and pedagogy in UK universities’, Hepi Debate Paper 23, p. 25.

[6] Dorothy Middleton, ‘The Early History of the Hakluyt society 1847-1923’, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 152, No. 2 (1986), 223.

[7] Illustration 1. Table of all the Hakluyt Society’s editions including texts from the main and extra series. Retrieved from Roy Bridges, ‘The Literature of Travel and Exploration: The Work of the Hakluyt Society’, The Journal of the Hakluyt Society, (2014), 9.

[8] Bridges, ‘The Literature of Travel and Exploration’, 4-5.

[9] ibid, 9.

[10] Illustration Two. Two graphs depicting the number of volumes distinguished by ‘travels of Africa’ and ‘Other Volumes’ published in the Hakluyt Society’s Main Series. The subsequent bar graph divides ‘Travels of Africa’ by African and ‘Other’ authors.

[11] John William Blake, ed, Europeans in West Africa, 1540-1560 : Documents to Illustrate the Nature and Scope of Portuguese Enterprise in West Africa, the Abortive Attempt of Castilians to Create an Empire There, and the Early English Voyages to Barbary and Guinea, (Farnham: Hakluyt Society, 2017). Accessed 18 March, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[12] Bridges, ‘The Literature of Travel and Exploration’, p. 9.

[13] Henry E. J. Stanley, ed, A Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century, by Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese, (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010). Accessed 18 March 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central; E. G. Ravenstein, ed, A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco Da Gama, 1497-1499, (Farnham: Hakluyt Society, 2010). Accessed 18 March 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[14] Roy Bridges, ed, A walk across Africa: J A. Grant’s account of the Nile expedition of 1860-1863, (Abingdon, Oxon ; New York: Routledge for The Hakluyt Society, 2018), p. xix; Isabel Boavida, Herve Pennec, and Manuel Joao Ramos, edts, Pedro Paez’s History of Ethiopia, 1622, Vol 1. (Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011).

[15] Anon, ‘The Hakluyt Society: Annual Report’, 31 December 2021, p. 25.

[16] It is implied by the Society’s 2019 Annual report that the international representative encourages overseas subscribership. When asked about the appointment of an international representative to Ireland, ‘[t]he President agreed that one should be appointed and hoped that this would encourage more members from Ireland’. See Anon, ‘The Hakluyt Society: Annual Report’, 18 March 2020, p. 21.

[17] Achille Mbembe, et al., Decolonisation in Universities: The Politics of Knowledge, (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2019). ProQuest Ebook Central.

[18] Increasing African subscribership could increase the demand for, and further, the Hakluyt Society’s decolonising agenda. It is assumed that the Society will need to meet the demands of its ever-changing audience.

Freshest Advices From Barbary: News & Information Flows between Restoration Britain & the Maghreb

These newspapers presented to British audiences a view of Maghrebi diversity, and diplomatic relations with Europe free of anti-Maghrebi rhetoric.

By Nat Cutter, University of Melbourne

Note: This blog post is cross-posted on Medieval & Early Modern Orients with permission.

Historians often argue that most early modern British people knew little or nothing true about the Maghreb or its people; informed by fictionalised, polemical, allegorical and occasionally factual accounts, Britons viewed Maghreb as alien, dangerous, undifferentiated and chaotic. As part of my research into British expatriates who lived in the Maghreb (see my first three blog posts), I wanted to understand how true this was for them, and how they might have contributed to changing the narrative at home. I realised that a great way into the information they might have received was to look at periodical news, that is, newspapers. The seventeenth century was time when regular newspapers started to take off in Britain, and these publications were positively devoured by British audiences – more than 30,000 individual issues were published before 1700, and each issue could be hundreds or thousands of copies. While literate, male, middle-class Londoners like my expatriates were a key audience, newspapers were passed between acquaintances and read aloud in public, so the news and views they contained reached a much larger proportion of the British population.

Black and white image of the London Gazette, dated 4-8 June 1668, containing several stories relating to the Maghreb.
A copy of the London Gazette, dated 4-8 June 1668, containing several stories relating to the Maghreb.

Coming from foreign news based on eyewitness accounts, and often backed by government authority, the major newspapers gained a reputation for up-to-date and reliable information to the extent that they were used in court cases and historical research. Looking at these papers, I found thousands of items that together presented to British audiences a view of Maghrebi ethnic, political, and religious diversity, and diplomatic relations with Europe and Britain, that was robust, detailed, and largely free of the anti-Maghrebi rhetoric that appeared in other publications.1 I’ll talk more about the content of this material in future posts, but for now, I want to talk about how newspapers got their information in the first place, which will help us understand why it was such high-quality. Official government papers, like the London Gazette, got their foreign news mainly from consuls living in foreign countries, so we can match up some letters sent directly to London from the Maghreb to articles that got printed there. But there were plenty of non-government papers, who drew their information from other places, and lots of articles in the Gazette talk about the Maghreb but don’t come straight from there. So how did they get the news? To answer this, we need to use the letters that I’ve been working with, which describe how news was part of the daily life for expatriates.2

Floating small wooden boat
A North African sandal fishing boat, available here.

News stories naturally always begin with what happened, and how the first recorder learns about it. Sometimes expats in the Maghreb would be eyewitnesses, like Francis Barrington in 1683 Tunis: ‘The ffrench are still riding att the Goletta3; going Inn & out to amuse these people; but meeting with an Algiers [corsair] they contrary to all rules of Civillity & good manners burnt her’.4 Given the consulate’s position on the harbour, Barrington could have seen the action from his bedroom window. But more often local news came from Maghrebi colleagues and informants, as merchant James Chetwood was told by Muslim colleagues in 1697, ‘that there was a hot report in towne & Country that 30 or 40 french Galleys were coming on this Coast, and that the french Consull was fled away from Tunis’.5 Once they had news, expatriates would send it to each other around the Maghreb. Often, they wrote things down in letters, but writing was often a challenge: they needed good supplies of pens and ink and paper, and the time and physical fitness to write. They also needed a reliable way to get the letters where they needed to go: this could be by hamalls (porters for hire), sandalls (local fishing ships), caffaloes (camel caravans), or by larger merchant, corsair or navy ships, and each of these could be diverted or disrupted. Local officials intercepted European correspondence, roads were rendered impassable by rain, stormy seas delayed or sunk ships, and hamalls might charge more money to travel as fast as required. Another option was to tell news to a friend who was travelling and have them pass it on by word of mouth, but it was really important to have someone both the writer and the recipient trusted on board: ‘This you’l receive god willing from the hands of our very deservingly esteemed freind Mr James Chetwood whome haveing discours’d amply about ye affairs tending to the Trades of your & this place leaves not matter for further adition referring you wholy to him’.6

1745 ink on paper map of the Mediterranean Sea and surrrounds
Richard William Seale, A correct Chart of the Mediterranean Sea, from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Levant: From the latest and best Observations: for Mr. Tindal’s Continuation of Mr. Rapin’s History, 1745ink on paper, 35.56 × 72.39 cm.

From here, expats would send news to their friends and business partners in Europe, usually in writing on merchant ships. British letters from Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli went all over the Mediterranean – to Livorno, Marseilles, Genoa, Alicante, Cadiz, Venice and elsewhere. Sometimes these letters were lost as well, particularly in times of war. Once they got the letters, Europeans would forward letters on, take out bits of news for their own letters, and pass information on to Italian, French, or Spanish newspapers, so that expatriate information also came to Britain (sometimes in garbled form) by way of European connections. Expatriates also corresponded directly with partners, friends and family in Britain, sending very specific news – sometimes as part of their letters, and sometimes as stand-alone pieces. During the 1680s, the consul in Tunis prepared a manuscript newsletter which he called the ‘Tunis Gazette’, and his colleagues in London esteemed it as ‘the most Methodicall way of writing occurences that can be invested & pray Continue to favour us in the same manner’.7

Front-page news from Algiers, based on a letter from consul Samuel Martin. London Gazette 22-26 July 1675 based on Samuel Martin to Joseph Williamson, 30 June 1675, TNA SP 71/2, f. 74.
Front-page news from Algiers, based on a letter from consul Samuel Martin. London Gazette 22-26 July 1675 based on Samuel Martin to Joseph Williamson, 30 June 1675, TNA SP 71/2, f. 74.

Consuls, because of their official role, were also expected to provide news to their superiors in government, but often sent these reports to their merchant colleagues to be checked before sending them on. These letters were designed to convey facts without personal comment, which served the objectives both of merchants and politicians, but sometimes consuls didn’t cooperate: ‘Wee are resolved to carry up your letter to the secretary but are sorry to finde in itt so many satyracall axpressions upon the french nation; which pray for the future leeve out and advise onely plaine matters of fact’.The Secretary then checked the material before passing selections onto newspaper editors to be printed; but expatriates also sometimes wrote directly to newspaper editors, giving them the information they wanted and bypassing official channels. In general, editorial changes before printing were small, and geared towards enhancing the freshness, detail and polemic-free factuality that already characterised the letters they received. Because of this, and the good material they already contained, expatriate letters and government papers were the gold standard for reliability.

A handwritten letter of news from Tripoli to London. Thomas Baker to Henry Coventry, 2 July 1680
A letter of news from Tripoli to London. Thomas Baker to Henry Coventry, 2 July 1680, TNA SP 71/22 Part 2, f. 18, author’s photograph.

News stories about the Maghreb were popular in Britain – everyday people were interested in the exotic places, exciting battles and brutal captivity stories, and merchants and government officials needed to know about new trade opportunities and diplomatic relationships to do their jobs well. We can find news stories about the Maghreb copied down in people’s diaries, reprinted multiple times in different London papers, and then printed again in Irish, Scottish and regional English papers (more about this coming soon!) But it wasn’t only to Britain that news travelled; people in the Maghreb wanted news about Britain as well. So, expats were constantly asking for newsletters and newspapers from Britain and passed them around to each other. They were mainly interested in politics and trade, rather than more social and cultural information that filled some papers: ‘That you professe your selfe incurious about Newes, Gazetts and those sort of Peepers I rather esteeme a vertue, then object as a defect in humour, since such kind of inquiries are meerly superficiall and really concerne us not, Whether such a day Mr Lord Mayor went a hunting or not’.Expatriates used their privileged access to European news carefully, competing with other Europeans in the Maghreb to present their country as the most trustworthy, honourable and admirable, and so attract personal and national advantage. This sometimes went well, as in 1692 the consul in Tripoli reported after an English victory against France, ‘we have Celebrated here in the most publique manner we could; the Turks & moores allso rejoyceing with us’, and sometimes not so well, as after the Popish Plot in 1680: ‘The Late conspiracie in England against his Majesties Royall Person and Government, hath been represented, by the French and Jewes, residing here, to this People, with soe much falsity, and disadvantage to his Majesties affaires’.10

These information flows help us to understand how new kinds of information started coming to Britain in the second half of the seventeenth century, contributing to a shift in public perceptions away from the kind of fear and admiration we see in Shakespeare’s time towards increasing pragmatic cooperation. Expats and governments wanted to work with Maghrebi peoples, rather than fight wars with them, and so their letters and the news they published reflected this to the people. There were still plenty of other documents that were negative towards the Maghreb, but the large quantity and regular flow of information that came out this way makes it really important to include when we try to evaluate the overall British views of the Maghreb, and Maghrebi views of Britain too.

This blog post is based on the essay Nat Cutter wrote on ‘Grateful Fresh Advices and Random Dark Relations; Maghrebi News and Experiences in British Expatriate Letters, 1660-1710’ that won the 2021 Hakluyt Society Essay Prize.

It has since been published in Cultural & Social History.


[1] See Nat Cutter, ‘Turks, Moors, Deys and Kingdoms: North African Diversity in English Periodical News before 1700’, Melbourne Historical Journal 46 (2018): 61-84, available at http://go.unimelb.edu.au/x85r; ‘Peace with Pirates? Maghrebi Maritime Combat, Diplomacy, and Trade in English Periodical News, 1622-1714’, Humanities 8, 4 (2019), article no. 179, available at http://go.unimelb.edu.au/j85r.

[2] For a significantly larger account of these information flows, see my forthcoming ‘Grateful Fresh Advices and Random Dark Relations: Maghrebi News and Experiences in British Expatriate Letters, 1660-1710’, in special issue of Cultural and Social History, edited by Giada Pizzoni.

[3] That is, the harbour at Tunis.

[4] Francis Barrington to Thomas Goodwyn, 15 October 1683, TNA FO 335/3/9.

[5] James Chetwood to Thomas Goodwyn, 24 May 1697, FO 335/12/3.

[6] Messrs Nash, Packer and Spencer to Thomas Goodwyn, 4 April 1694, FO 335/10/12.

[7] Francis Barrington and Benjamin Steele to Thomas Goodwyn, 4-13 May 1685, FO 335/5/6.

[8] Francis Barrington and Benjamin Steele to Thomas Goodwyn, 4 November 1686, FO 335/5/16.

[9] Thomas Baker to Thomas Goodwyn, 15-22 October 1681, FO 335/2/11.

[10] Nathaniel Lodington to Thomas Goodwyn, 15 July 1692, FO 335/9/10; Thomas Baker to Henry Coventry, 2 July 1680, TNA SP 71/22 Part 2, ff. 18-18v.

Hormuz 1622: Connected Histories and Transcultural Receptions

A one-day hybrid conference to be held in Oxford (online and in person at Cohen Quad, Exeter College)

Date: 11 March 2022
Conference Programme – Click Here
Announcement page on TIDE

Poster of 1622 Hormuz event

Clear your schedule and join us on 11 March for the one-day hybrid conference, ‘Hormuz 1622: Connected Histories and Transcultural Receptions’! The 1622 capture of Hormuz by the joint forces of Safavid Persia and the British East India Company was a defining moment in the history of Iran’s relationships with Europe. Strategically situated at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the island kingdom of Hormuz had been conquered by Afonso de Albuquerque in 1507 and made a vassal state to Portugal in 1515, remaining for more than a century thereafter a key military stronghold and a nexus of maritime trade in Portuguese hands. A catalyst of political interactions and a crossroads of economic and cultural interests, the fall of Hormuz offers a fascinating instance of the dynamics of globalization at work in the early modern period, interlocking identities and allegiances, confronting world views, political empires and commercial ambitions, reconfiguring communities and networks, repurposing histories and their receptions.

The conference will run online via Zoom and in-person at Exeter College, Oxford’s Cohen Quad. For more information, contact Ladan Niayesh at ladan.niayesh@orinst.ox.ac.uk or Edmund Herzig at edmund.herzig@orinst.ox.ac.uk

Confirmed Hakluyt Society keynote lecture: Professor Joan-Pau Rubiés (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)

Online/Virtual Registration - Click Here
In-Person Registration - Click Here

‘Hormuz 1622’ benefits from the support of the Oxford Centre for Early Modern Studies and the Oxford Nizami Ganjavi Centre, ERC-TIDE (Oxford), LARCA (CNRS, Université de Paris), and the Hakluyt Society.

Programme: Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021 – Decolonising Travel Studies: Sources and Approaches

10-12 November 2021
University of Warwick (online via Zoom)

(All times are GMT+0/UTC)

The Hakluyt Society, the Global History and Culture Centre (GHCC) at the University of Warwick, and Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs), invite you to the Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021 – Decolonising Travel Studies: Sources and Approaches. Attendance is free and all are welcome.

To register, please email: hakluytsymposium2021@gmail.com

Contacts: Natalya Din-Kariuki (Natalya.Din-Kariuki@warwick.ac.uk) and Guido van Meersbergen (G.van-Meersbergen@warwick.ac.uk)

Day 1: Wednesday 10 November 2021

14.00-14.15: Introduction and Welcome (Natalya Din-Kariuki and Guido van Meersbergen)

14.15-15.45: Panel 1: Decolonising Travel Studies in Theory and Practice (Chair: Caitlin Vandertop)

  • Daniel Vitkus: “Racialized Capitalism, Intersectionality, and Early Modern Travel Studies”
  • Denise Saive Castro: “Contemplating Slavery on the African West Coast: A Comparison of Portuguese and Dutch Travel Accounts with the Correspondence of Nepemba Angiga, also known as Afonso I of Kongo” [paper withdrawn]
  • Sander Molenaar: “Deconstructing the ‘Imperial Gaze’ in Chinese Travel Writing: A New Look at Ma Huan’s Ying ya sheng lan (Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores)”
  • Carl Thompson: “Conjectures on Travel Writing as World Literature” [paper withdrawn]

15.45-16.00: Break

16.00-17.15: Panel 2: Travel and Decolonisation Today (Chair: Ladan Niayesh)

  • Sandhya Patel: “Peopling the Pitt Rivers Cook-Voyage Collections on the World Wide Web”
  • R. Benedito Ferrão: “The Black Antarctic: Decoloniality and Queer Ecology in Mojisola Adebayo’s Moj of the Antarctic
  • Joanne Lee: “All Roads Lead to Africa: Decolonizing the Imperial City”

17.15-17.30: Break

17.30-19.00: Panel 3: Images and Imaginations: Visual and Cartographic Sources (Chair: Daniel Carey)

  • Farah Bazzi: “Seeing the ‘Maghreb’ by Looking at the Americas: Rethinking the Transmission of Cartographic Knowledge in the Ottoman World through the Piri Reis Map of 1513” [paper withdrawn]
  • Louise McCarthy: “Cartographic Silence and Muted Voices: Reading the Subtexts of British Maps of Early Colonial Virginia (1606-1624)
  • Sara Caputo: “Travels Carved on the Pathless Ocean: European Ship Tracks and (De)colonial Mobility”
  • Apurba Chatterjee: “Travel, Visuality, and the British Indian Empire: James Baillie Fraser in the Himalayas” [paper withdrawn]

Day 2: Thursday 11 November 2021

09.30-10.45: Roundtable 1: Decolonial Approaches to British Sources and Archives by TIDE (Chair: Nandini Das)

  • Speakers: Haig Smith, Lauren Working, Emily Stevenson, and Tom Roberts

10.45- 11.15: Break

11.15- 12.15: Roundtable 2: Decolonising Travel Studies: A Student-led Conversation by participants of the Warwick Undergraduate Research Support Scheme (Chair: Guido van Meersbergen)

  • Speakers: Chhaya Rai, Nida Mahmud, Kevin Molloy, Declan Dadzie

12.15-12.30: Publishing with the Hakluyt Society: What and How?

  • Speaker: Katherine Parker

12.30-13.15 Lunch break

13.15-14.30 Panel 4: Black Travellers in the Twentieth Century: Oppression and Liberation (Chair: Dexnell Peters)

  • Kiranpreet Kaur: “Eslanda Robeson’s Congo Diary” [paper withdrawn]
  • Zachary Peterson: “Africans in America and Americans in Africa: The American Committee on Africa, its Travels to the Continent, and its Sponsorship of African Travelers to the US”
  • Janet Remmington: “Navigating Apartheid: Black Women Travelling”

14.30-14.45: Break

14.45-16.00: Panel 5: New Sources, Genres, and Perspectives (Chair: Julia Kuehn)

  • Judith E. Bosnak: “Javanese Language Travelogues as ‘New’ Sources for the History of Travel”
  • Gábor Gelléri: “Colonial Tourism, De-centered”
  • Ettore Morelli: “The Diary of Morena Abraham Aaron Moletsane mor’a Moroa-ha-a-buse, 1952: African Traveller and Historian”

16.00-16.30: Break

16.30-18.00: Keynote lecture: “Travelling While Black” (Chair: Natalya Din-Kariuki; introduction by Gloria Clifton, Hakluyt Society President).

Speaker: Nanjala Nyabola

Author of Travelling While Black (2020)

Day 3: Friday 12 November 2021

09.30-10.45: Roundtable 3: Decolonial Orientations: Travel Studies and the Pre-Modern Islamic Worldby Medieval and Early Modern Orients (Chair: Hassana Moosa)

  • Speakers: Lubaaba Al-Azami, Amrita Sen, Maria Shmygol, and Nat Cutter

10.45-11.15: Break

11.15-12.30: Panel 6: Recovering Indigenous Voices (Chair: Joan-Pau Rubiés)

  • Zoltán Biedermann: “Seeing the Invisible Hand: Retrieving Indigenous Agency from Early Iberian Travel Accounts, c.1500”
  • Lucas Aleixo Pires dos Reis & Roberth Daylon: “‘Foods that are self-served’: Methodologies for the Study of Unstated African Presences in Travel Accounts”
  • Anna Melinda Testa-De Ocampo: “Alexander Dalrymple and the Natural Curiosities in Sooloo (1770)”

12.30-13.30: Lunch break

13.30-14.45: Panel 7: South Asian Travellers, Religion, and Transnationalism (Chair: Somak Biswas)

  • Daniel Majchrowicz: “Muslim Women and Travel Writing: Rediscovering a Forgotten Archive”
  • Muhamed Riyaz Chenganakkattil: “‘Connected Stories’ of Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca: Decolonizing the Travel Writing through South Asian Hajj Narratives”
  • Nupur Bandyopadhyay: “A Journey to Justice: Transnational Civil Rights and Ramnath Biswas, an Indian Globetrotter from Bengal, 1937-40”

14.45-15.15 Break

15.15-16.30: Panel 8: Reorienting Travel Studies: Perspectives from Europe’s Fringes (Chair: Eva Johanna Holmberg)

  • Sharyl Corrado: “Evgeniia Maier (1865-1951): Noblewoman and Nomad”
  • Janne Lahti: “Settler Colonial Eyes in Unexpected Places: Finnish Travel Writers and Settler Colonization on the Arctic Ocean”
  • Nadiya Chushak: “‘First female travel blogger’: Sofiya Yablonska-Oudin’s Works and their Perception in Contemporary Ukraine”

16.30-16.45 Break

16.45-18.00: Roundtable 4: Decolonising Travel Studies in the Classroom (Chair: Natalya Din-Kariuki and Eva Johanna Holmberg)

  • Speakers: Nandini Das, Jyotsna Singh, Nedda Mehdizadeh, and Gerald Maclean


Programme (pdf)

CFP – The Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021: Decolonising Travel Studies

The Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021

Decolonising Travel Studies: Sources and Approaches

11-12 November 2021

University of Warwick (online)

Deadline for submissions: 1 July 2021

Keynote: Nanjala Nyabola, Author of Travelling While Black (2020)

Call for Papers

The close links between travel and European colonialism have long been acknowledged. Since the early modern period, forms of global travel and exploration have often produced and reflected unequal structures of power: between those who chose to travel and those forced to, those who claimed lands and those whose lands were claimed, and those whose voices were amplified and others whose voices were erased. Post-colonial, feminist, and other critiques have exposed the inequalities inherent in the history of travel, whilst increased attention to women travellers and travel writing in Arabic, Persian, Chinese and other languages is changing the ways in which this history is written. Nonetheless, for reasons of institutional culture and the availability and accessibility of sources, the academic study of travel remains largely skewed towards the accounts and perspectives of European men from a small number of former imperial nations.

To mark the Hakluyt Society’s 175th anniversary, the Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021 aims to take stock of the historiography on global travel and exploration and reflect on what a decolonised history of travel looks like in theory and practice. Hosted by the University of Warwick’s Global History and Culture Centre (GHCC), the online symposium will bring together students and academics working across historical periods in an interdisciplinary conversation around the sources, approaches, and perspectives required to decolonise the field. Abstracts (max. 300 words) are invited for 15-minute papers that engage with one or more of the following:

  • The historical development of and colonial legacies contained in travel and exploration studies, including primary source editions such as the 380+ volumes published by the Hakluyt Society since 1847.
  • Empirical case studies of underrepresented histories of travel, particularly those that focus on BIPOC, women, and/or LQBTQ+ travellers and perspectives.
  • The politics of the archive, and the ways in which particular methodologies have rendered certain demographics (women of colour, unfree people and disabled people, for instance) absent or invisible in the histories of colonialism and travel.
  • The theory and practice of decolonisation as it pertains to the history of travel, particularly with the aim of identifying future directions for the discipline.
  • Unpublished sources for the history of travel, ideally those which might be proposed for editing within the Hakluyt Society’s Third Series.

Please submit your abstracts and a brief biographical note to hakluytsymposium2021@gmail.com by 1 July 2021. Early career researchers and postgraduate students are particularly encouraged to apply.

Organising committee: Natalya Din-Kariuki (University of Warwick, English) and Guido van Meersbergen (University of Warwick, History). Download CFP.

Call for Papers: The Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021 – Decolonising Travel Studies: Sources and Approaches. 11-12 November 2021, University of Warwick (online). Deadline for submissions: 1 July 2021. More info at: https://hakluytsociety.wordpress.com/2021/05/17/cfp-the-hakluyt-society-symposium-2021-decolonising-travel-studies/

Book launch “Trading Companies and Travel Knowledge in the Early Modern World”, 25 March 2022

The Hakluyt Society is thrilled to invite you to the online book launch of Trading Companies and Travel Knowledge in the Early Modern World, the first volume in our new series Hakluyt Society Studies in the History of Travel. The launch will take place on Friday 25 March at 13.00-14.30 GMT. Attendance is free and all are welcome to attend. Please register to book your free ticket here.

Trading Companies and Travel Knowledge in the Early Modern World explores the multiple links between trade, empire, exploration, and global information transfer during the early modern period. By charting how the leaders, members, employees, and supporters of different trading companies gathered, processed, employed, protected, and divulged intelligence about foreign lands, peoples, and markets, the book throws new light on the internal uses of information by corporate actors and the ways they engaged with, relied on, and supplied various external publics. This ranged from using secret knowledge to beat competitors, to shaping debates about empire, and to forcing Europeans to reassess their understandings of specific environments due to contacts with non-European peoples. Reframing our understanding of trading companies through the lens of travel knowledge, this volume brings together thirteen experts in the field to facilitate a new understanding of how European corporations and empires were shaped by global webs of information exchange.

To celebrate the launch of this new volume, we will be joined by the book’s contributors, the editors of the volume, Aske Laursen Brock, Guido van Meersbergen, and Edmond Smith, and the series editors, Dan Carey and Joan-Pau Rubies. The launch event will feature comments from the President of the Hakluyt Society, Gloria Clifton, leading expert in the field, Claire Jowitt, and two of the book’s brilliant contributors, Jyotsna Singh and Amrita Sen.

Attendees can purchase the book using the 20% discount code FLR40 (e-book £29.59) and members of the Hakluyt Society can use a 40% discount code available in the member’s area of the Society’s website.

Hakluyt Society Videos – Annual Lecture and Conference Papers 2021

From time to time, the Hakluyt Society publishes on its website videos relating to the Hakluyt Society and its publications, as well as the Hakluyt Society Annual Lecture.

This year the Hakluyt Society Annual Lecture 2021 was presented by Professor Janet M. Hartley, Emeritus Professor of International History, London School of Economics, on the subject of

‘The Volga: the River as Frontier’.

A video of the lecture can be found here.

Additionally, recordings of the papers presented at this year’s annual conference of the Société d’études anglo-américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles,

‘Maps and Mapping in English-speaking countries in the 17th and 18th centuries’

held at the Université Paris-Diderot and sponsored by the Hakluyt Society, are available below, separated into two days at:



Will Ryan and The Hakluyt Society

The following is a preface to a newly-published Festschrift volume celebrating our former President, Professor Will Ryan FBA: Magic, Travels and Texts: Homage to a Scholar, Will Ryan, ed. Janet Hartley and Denis J. B. Shaw. Among twenty one chapters, a section on ‘Travel, Technology and Exploration’ includes three papers by volume editors of the Hakluyt Society and one by an international representative. For details on content and purchase, see www.sgecr.co.uk/festschrift-ryan.html

Front cover of Festschrift for Will Ryan, published April 2021.

Will Ryan’s long, distinguished and affectionate relationship with the Hakluyt Society has thrived on its particular set of virtues: a love of books and of learning, respect for record made accessible through editorship, an interest in people in their historical circumstances, and the simple pleasure of knowing things and sharing them. These features made the Society a natural locus for Will and he in turn has upheld its values and character.

The Hakluyt Society has maintained a core purpose since its foundation in 1846: to publish scholarly editions of primary accounts of voyages and other travels in durable volumes and to distribute these to subscribing members and through the book trade generally. Will joined the Society in 1975. He translated and annotated Abbot Daniel’s Pilgrimage from the old Russian original (the previously published translation having been from an unreliable French translation), which appeared as part of the Hakluyt Society volume Jerusalem Pilgrimage, 1099-1185 in 1988. It was the longest of the assembled texts and Daniel and Will have given us a charming, lively and (for Daniel) personal story: ‘I travelled that holy road unworthily, with every kind of sloth and weakness, in drunkenness and doing every kind of unworthy deed.’

Will became an ‘honorary secretary’ in 1990, a post which he held jointly with Sarah Tyacke and which included what would later be the duties of the ‘series editor’, a title adopted for Will and Sarah in 1995. Will would be a series editor, either on his own or jointly with Robin Law or Michael Brennan, through to his election as president in 2008. In 2007 he was joined by two ‘honorary assistant series editors’, Gloria Clifton and Joyce Lorimer, who continue as series editors today. This means that Will shouldered this central responsibility at the Society for eighteen years. He then was president until 2011 and continues now as an active vice-president.

Will’s period as series editor saw many important volumes published and some major projects brought to fruition. The three volumes of Olaus Magnus, A Description of the Northern Peoples, 1555 spanned 1996-98 and the volume editor, Peter Foote, recorded that: ‘Will Ryan has seen these difficult volumes through the press. They could not have been in more capable hands.’ Will had the distinction of seeing the fifth and final volume published of a work that had required the attentions of many an honorary secretary or series editor, having spanned 1957-2000, after an initial proposal in 1922; this was The Travels of Ibn Battuta,  A.D. 1325-1354.

The Malaspina Expedition 1789-1794 in three volumes fell to Will’s watch and the editors acknowledge that his ‘meticulous  overseeing’ created a text for the printer from ‘contributions reaching him in no particular order from the [four] different editors’. The outstanding achievement of Will’s stamina and perseverance, however, is surely Russian California, 1806-1860. A History in Documents. This was published in two very large volumes in 2014, after Will was no longer series editor, but the series editorial work had definitely fallen to him. Former president Glyn Williams has mentioned to me that he has always noted that Will’s many commitments to the Society were carried out when he was a very busy and prestigious academic librarian, with his own commitments in research and publication.

In 2013 Will was awarded the President’s Medal of the Hakluyt Society. In making this award, the president, Michael Barritt, quoted the opinion of Roy Bridges, Will’s immediate predecessor as president, which is worth recording here:

[…] few of those who have served as Honorary Secretaries and latterly Series Editors, vital as their contributions have been, were quite able to match the linguistic and technical skills as well as cultural awareness which Will has so devotedly deployed for our collective benefit.

So it is appropriate to end with a small instance of these skills. We give the last word to Abbot Daniel, in Will’s translation, who in the early twelfth century wrote what could be the credo of the Hakluyt Society: ‘I have set down everything which I saw with my own eyes, so that what God gave me, an unworthy man, to see may not be forgotten.’

Jim Bennett

The Hakluyt Society, October 2020