The Grand Tour and Development of Tourism, 1600 to 1900

October 4, 2011 to April 28, 2012

This exhibition commemorates the 400th anniversary of the publication in 1611 of Coryat’s Crudities, Thomas Coryat’s account of a five-month journey across Europe. A poor parson’s son, Coryat demonstrated that it was possible for common folk to unleash their “insatiable greedinesse of seeing strange countries.” He also collected objects and souvenirs, in the process introducing the English to the fork and the umbrella, which he had encountered in Italy [Section I]. His openness to new ideas, sights, sounds, and tastes makes Coryat appear very modern. After all, today, people of all ages and backgrounds habitually travel, even to the farthest reaches of the globe, in search of pleasure and novelty. But in the early seventeenth century, being such a free spirit was itself novel and his book comprises a unique mixture of geography, history, and often revealing personal narrative.

Before the 1800s, most travel was pragmatic: pilgrims, soldiers, ambassadors and merchants all made arduous and often hazardous journeys for pragmatic reasons of religion, trade, administration, and war. Travel for pleasure was reserved for the social elite. In particular, wealthy young Englishmen undertook the “Grand Tour” across the continent, a necessary experience if they were to claim to be truly cultured. Together with servants and tutors and armed with letters of introduction to other gentry and aristocracy, they spent months, if not years, touring the continent’s major cities, taking in the cultural highlights, and collecting souvenirs [Section II].

But nineteenth-century improvements in the technologies of transportation and communication made travel much easier and cheaper. Steamships and railroads drastically reduced the time it took to traverse Europe and the telegraph ensured instantaneous contact. The travel and tourism industry we are familiar with today, exemplified by Cook’s Tours and Baedeker Guides, developed during the Victorian era to service the demands of a newly emerging middle-class. Eager to experience the Grand Tour destinations first hand, these tourists were equipped with travelogues, guidebooks, and souvenirs to extract the maximum coverage in their breakneck travels [Section III]. In the USA, canals and then railroads opened up North America’s spectacular landscapes to the growing urban middle-class, who began with Niagara Falls before heading further west to the Rockies [Section IV]. At the same time, wealthier or more adventurous Americans headed east across the Atlantic to consume Europe’s antique charm for themselves [Section V].

This exhibition traces three hundred years of travel and tourism in Europe and North America through the maps and guidebooks that directed travelers and tourists to their destinations. It begins with Coryat who, unlike his modern counterpart, had neither guidebooks nor maps. It ends with World War I, after which travel to Europe would never be the same again.


This exhibition includes a number of prints kindly loaned by Jerome and Monique Collins from their Americana Collection; a selection of rare books loaned by Robert Cotsen, M.D.; and pamphlets from the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. Yolanda Theunissen curated the exhibition with the support of Prof. Matthew Edney and several colleagues who each prepared specific sections:

  • Prof. Benjamin Bertram, USM Department of English, created the panels for the historic overview of Coryat’s Crudities;
  • Lucinda Hannington, a graduate student in USM’s American Studies Program, selected and organized the documents for the Women’s Rest Tour Association, and wrote the panel on Helen Hunt Jackson; and
  • Lincoln Paine, a Portland-based scholar of maritime history, researched the deck plans and advertising brochures in the Trans-Atlantic Ocean Liner Collection recently donated by Norman Morse.

The technical assistance of Stuart Hunter is gratefully acknowledged, as is the valuable interpretive and technical assistance provided by OML’s staff: Renee Keul; Ron Levere; David Neikirk; Roberta Ransley; Robert Spencer; and Lindsey Weeks. Further support came from graduate student assistants Elizabeth Swasey and Ruth Worboys, and from OML volunteers, Ann Wood and George Carhart. Special thanks must go to Prof. Alexandra Milsom, Department of English, UCLA, for sharing her scholarly insights on the development of travel and tourism.