21L.007 | Fall 2008 | Undergraduate

World Literatures: Travel Writing


Course Description

This semester, we will read writing about travel and place from Columbus’s Diario through the present. Travel writing has some special features that will shape both the content and the work for this subject: reflecting the point of view, narrative choices, and style of individuals, it also responds to the pressures of a real world only marginally under their control. Whether the traveler is a curious tourist, the leader of a national expedition, or a starving, half-naked survivor, the encounter with place shapes what travel writing can be. Accordingly, we will pay attention not only to narrative texts but to maps, objects, archives, and facts of various kinds.

Our materials are organized around three regions: North America, Africa and the Atlantic world, the Arctic and Antarctic. The historical scope of these readings will allow us to know something not only about the experiences and writing strategies of individual travelers, but about the progressive integration of these regions into global economic, political, and knowledge systems. Whether we are looking at the production of an Inuit film for global audiences, or the mapping of a route across the North American continent by water, these materials do more than simply record or narrate experiences and territories: they also participate in shaping the world and what it means to us.

Authors will include Olaudah Equiano, Caryl Philips, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Joseph Conrad, Jamaica Kincaid, William Least Heat Moon, Louise Erdrich, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.

Expeditions will include those of Lewis and Clark (North America), Henry Morton Stanley (Africa), Ernest Shackleton and Robert F. Scott (Antarctica).

Course Goals

Contemporary Authors

Caryl Phillips, Louise Erdrich, William Least Heat-Moon.


North America, Africa and the Atlantic World, the Arctic and Antarctic.


Ernest Shackleton, Robert Scott, Lewis and Clark, David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca.

Course Requirements

Informal Writing

This consists of two sections. The first section contains 500-700 words and identifies and discusses an object that 1/ relates to the events or places described in one of our texts; 2/ changes our understanding by telling us something the text doesn’t. The second section is a response either to Worsley reading for Ses #23 or to Erdrich’s Books and Islands for Ses #25.

Group Work/Presentations

Each group will be in charge of leading 2 days of discussion, which means you will: prepare a presentation on the readings and design activities and discussion questions that you think appropriate to the material and to your topic. Part of your presentation should be a hand-out with a bibliography of sources.

Course Grades

Essays 1, 2, 3 (15% each) 45%
Revision 15%
Peer response 3%
Quiz 2%
Wiki posts (5% each) 10%
Group work and presentations (10% each) 20%
Participation and attendance 5%

MIT Literature Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism—use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available at the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.


Part 1. Introduction

Time, Space, Event:

J. Stern, “Rough Guide to My Apartment”
C. Columbus, Diario


Tourists, Travellers, Explorers:

Jamaica Kincaid (from A Small Place)
C. Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, chapters 1-4 (selections)
J. Conrad, “Geography and Some Explorers.”

Part II. Crossing North America
3 W. Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways  
4 W. Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways (cont.)  
5 W. Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways (cont.)  
6 A. N. Cabeza de Vaca, Naufragios Essay 1 draft due one day later
7 A. N. Cabeza de Vaca, Naufragios (cont.)  
8 M. Lewis and W. Clark, Journals

Essay 1 due

Peer responses due

9 M. Lewis and W. Clark, Journals (cont.)  
10 M. Lewis and W. Clark, Journals (cont.)  
Part III. Africa and The Atlantic World
11 O. Equiano, Interesting Narrative  
12 O. Equiano, Interesting Narrative (cont.)  
13 O. Equiano and H. M. Stanley, How I Found Livingstone  
14 O. Equiano and H. M. Stanley, How I Found Livingstone (cont.)  
15 O. Equiano and H. M. Stanley, How I Found Livingstone (cont.)  
16 C. Phillips, The Atlantic Sound, “Atlantic Crossing,” “Leaving Home” Essay 2 due
17 Phillips, “Homeward Bound,” “Home,” “Exodus” Peer responses due (optional)
18 Workshop: revising your essays  
Part IV. Polar regions
19 Atanarjuat, Quiz 1st Informal writing section due on or before this date
20 Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Worst Journey, Introduction Revision due 1 day later
21 Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Worst Journey (cont.)  
22 Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Worst Journey (cont.)  
23 F. Worsley, Endurance Option 1 for 2nd informal writing section due

F. Worsley, Endurance (cont.)

T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Optional revision due

Option 2 for 2nd informal writing section due

Part V. Remaining in place
25 L. Erdrich, Books and Islands Option 3 for 2nd informal writing section due
26 L. Erdrich, Books and Islands (cont.) Essay 3 due 1 day later

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2008
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Exams with Solutions