ARTICLE: Questions of Inscription and Epistemology in British Travelers’ Accounts of Early Nineteenth-Century South America

From the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (published online May 2011):

Questions of Inscription and Epistemology in British Travelers’ Accounts of Early Nineteenth-Century South America

Innes M. Keighren & Charles W.J. Withers

Abstract This article examines the problems of truth and of trust in travelers’ narratives. Following a review of work on travel writing and the place of printed travel narratives in the making of geographical enquiry, we discuss how issues of inscription and credibility are intrinsic to the material and epistemic transformation of narratives from their manuscript beginnings to their printed form. Particular attention is paid to the narratives of travel in early nineteenth-century South America issued by the London publisher John Murray. By interrogating the embodied practices of travel writing, this article investigates the ways in which Murray’s authors sought to establish a correspondence between their lived experiences and the textual representations of those experiences. The article focuses on the epistemological bases to travelers’ claims to truth and how they evaluated differently the significance of direct observation and the oral and textual testimony of third parties in the production of travel accounts that sought to reveal a newly independent South America to the reading public. In its examination of the complex connections linking author, publisher, and audience, the work has implications for scholars interested in the relationship between writing and the printed word in geography.

A brief mention is made of Darwin: “What was taking place there and with these authors was more common than might be supposed: Darwin modified his written reports on South America and on much else for fear of offending his wife and peers; African travelers regulated their published work for fear of audience reproof; polar explorers commonly redacted their narratives between the field and the study Because this is so, the way in which travelers chose to write their accounts matters as a subject of scholarly attention, as does the relationship between narrative as practice and audiences’ and publishers’ perceptions of texts’ value and credibility” (p. 13)


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