The Genius of the English Nation: Travel Writing and National Identity in Early Modern England

The Genius of the English Nation: Travel Writing and National Identity in Early Modern England

The Genius of the English Nation: Travel Writing and National Identity in Early Modern England

The Genius of the English Nation: Travel Writing and National Identity in Early Modern England

Synopsis

Travel literature was one of the most popular literary genres of the early modern era. This book examines how concepts of national identity, imperialism, colonialism, and orientalism were worked out and represented for English readers in early travel and ethnographic writings.

Excerpt

In 1606, SIR THOMAS PALMER, ONETIME HIGH SHERIFF OF KENT, PUBlished a slim volume entitled An Essay of the Meanes how to make our Travailes, into forraine Countries, the more profitable and honourable. This accomplishment earned him a name as “the Travailer,” though he was not actually very well traveled. The work was presented as a manual for prospective travelers to other countries. Palmer had intended it for a specifically English audience, and in it he acknowledged the increasing propensity of the English for foreign travel. Palmer’s Essay was extremely comprehensive, including detailed explanations of the types of situations that a traveler might encounter, and recommendations on how to respond to them, ranging from timely arrival at the inn to how to avoid offending the locals. Palmer also aimed to prepare potential wayfarers to assess the societies that they encountered, such as determining whether a foreign people’s nature was “civil or barbarous.” The text incorporated a number of fold-out sequential diagrams intended to demonstrate at a glance how to proceed with acquiring information, and included separate instructions for various types of travelers, from ambassadors to “mechanickes” (tradesmen).

One of the most important characteristics a traveler should note, Palmer advised, was mode of government. In his book, he distinguished between the types of states or “nations” a traveler might encounter. His key political denominator was “freedom,” and he created categories which identified the relative degrees of liberty to be found in foreign parts. Palmer specified three classes of countries: First, “Those states are properly free, whose policie hangeth not upon any forrain power, acknowledging no other superiour than God, either in temporal or ecclesiasticall matters . . .

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