Studies in Travel Writing special issue: ‘Vertical Travel: Deceleration, Microspection, Confinement’

Guest edited by Charles Forsdick (University of Liverpool), Zoe Kinsley (Liverpool Hope University) and Kate Walchester (Liverpool John Moores University)

Travel writing is not exclusively a literature of mobility. The journeying it describes often exists in creative tension with experiences of slowness, immobility and even of confinement. Some travelogues recount (self-)imposed sojourns (e.g. Maria Graham’s Three Months Passed in the Mountains East of  Rome, or Eric Newby’s Love and War in the Apennines) while others , such as those narrating diplomatic journeys (e.g., the Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu), may become accounts of “extended stays”. There is another tradition of travel texts that recount breakdown when the itinerary stalls and grinds to a halt, as travellers (like Victor Segalen, in the midst of his Equipée) are forced to refocus on their immediate surroundings. Other travel writers explore geographically limited lives and spaces, as is exemplified by Patrick Leigh Fermor’s focus on monasticism in A Time to Keep Silence. In a much earlier text, Voyage autour de ma chambre, Xavier de Maistre turns his own confinement into a reason to explore the minutiae of domestic space.

This broad range of texts disrupts the traditionally horizontal axes of travel writing by replacing the customary emphasis on expansive movement through open spaces with a more decelerated or even sessile attention to the proximate and vertical. As such, any spatial and kinetic shift they imply is simultaneously accompanied by a radical adjustment of scale as the panoramic yields to more microscopic forms of engagement. Kris Lackey coined the term ‘vertical travel’ to describe this often unexpectedly close attention to a specific location, a burrowing into topographical or chronological detail that permits new perspectives on the exotic as well as on the everyday. Vertical travellers can be out of place (e.g., Nicolas Bouvier in the Sri Lanka of Le Poisson-Scorpion), but may equally enhance a sense of denizenship and permit close engagement with their own locality in ways that encourage (in the poetry and prose of John Clare, Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals or the travel/nature writing of Jacques Lacarrière) re-enchantment of the ordinary. Vertical travel extends also to the contemporary practice of urban exploration (UrbEx), journeying to heights and depths to gain new perspectives on the cityscape.

Replacing such phenomenological concerns with an attention to the historical and even spectral, William Least HeatMoon coined the term “deep mapping” to designate his exploration of hidden cartographic detail in texts such as PrairyErth. Jean-Didier Urbain describes the practice of “ethnologie de proximité” (proximate ethnography), and in texts such as Scarp, Nick Papadimitriou performs what he calls a “deep topography” that links the practice to contemporary forms of psychogeography. Such journeying is far from being vicarious or disembodied. It is very different, for instance, from the practice of armchair travel exemplified by Huysmans’s Des Esseintes. The imagination and the intellect play a key role, and what Michael Cronin dubs “microspection” can, like the practice of any other form of travel, involve deep introspection. Yet vertical travel is a different form of embodiment, an alternative type of sensory engagement, involving closing in, as opposed to opening out.

We invite proposals of a maximum 500 words for articles that explore the concept of vertical travel and cognate practices. We welcome studies of travel writing from a range of different historical periods and linguistic or cultural traditions. The following list is far from exhaustive, but articles may address the following topics:

  • Travel writing and confinement
  • Travel writing and quarantine
  • Vertical travel and the senses
  • Vertical travel and the histories of place
  • Travel writing, deceleration and pedestrianism
  • Travel writing and nature writing
  • The exotic and the endotic
  • Verticality versus horizontalism

Key dates: submission of abstracts (including 200-word bio-bibliography): 30 September 2020; communication of outcome to potential contributors: 21 October 2020; submission of articles for review: 28 February 2021; where appropriate, submission of revised articles following review: 30 June 2021; publication of special issue: late 2021.

Information for contributors to Studies in Travel Writing is available here:

Please send proposals to:, and

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