Three Welsh universities to investigate European Travellers to Wales in new joint research project

Posted on 20 August 2013

European travellers have come to Wales for numerous reasons; from those seeking a romantic idyll, to industrial spies in the Victorian era and refugees from Nazi Germany. Now, a new research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), aims to use the travel writings of these visitors to redefine the perceptions of Wales as a travel destination.

Researchers working at University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS), Bangor and Swansea Universities have been awarded a grant of £420,000, over three years, by the AHRC to fund the three-year research project.

Led by principal investigator Professor Carol Tully (Bangor), with co-investigators Dr Heather Williams (CAWCS) and Dr Kathryn Jones (Swansea) and a research assistant (based at CAWACS), the project will investigate European Travellers to Wales in the period 1750-2010. The project will also fund two PhD studentships which will look into literary portrayals and travel guides respectively. These are to be undertaken by Christina Les (Bangor) and Anna-Lou Dijkstra (Swansea).

Professor Carol Tully, Principal Investigator and Professor of German at the School of Modern Languages at Bangor University, said:

“I am delighted we have been able to secure this grant. It presents us with the opportunity to undertake ground-breaking research, as well as foster the careers of a new generation of academics. The project has been some years in the planning and we are now keen to move forward. The opportunity for collaborative work of this nature is especially exciting.”

Until now Wales has been overlooked in the field of travel writing. Either it is embedded in writing about England or where there has been interest in the Celtic nations, Wales has been neglected in favour of Scotland and Ireland. This project seeks to redefine perceptions of Wales and address the notion of Wales’s invisibility by broadening the gaze of travel writing to encompass European travellers and their observations.

Speaking about the project, Professor Dafydd Johnston, Director of CAWCS, said:

“We welcome this opportunity to work in partnership with colleagues from Bangor and Swansea on an exciting research project which will engage with a wealth of original material about Wales.”

From the beginning of the period under study, travel writing has been an important source in forming in forming perceptions of Wales both at home and abroad. Using individual travellers and the socio-political movements they represent as case studies, the project will broaden the scope of understanding by uncovering representations in non-English writing. It will also measure the extent to which existing English- language portrayals have helped shape European perspectives of Wales.

Dr Heather Williams, a native of Wales and specialist in French literature, said:

“The more I have studied other European languages and cultures, the more I have been fascinated by connections between Wales and Europe. So I am excited at the prospect of discovering more about European perceptions of Wales and Welshness.” 

Aside from the publication of a co-authored and multi-disciplinary book, the project team are currently working on a special issue of the journal Studies in Travel Writing for spring 2014, which will focus on Wales.  

Dr Kathryn Jones from the Department of Languages, Translation and Communication at Swansea University said:

“The project will be very broad in scope. We'll be investigating a wide range of texts from travelogues and diaries to guidebooks and blogs. We'll also be comparing travellers from different European countries, writing in numerous languages and at different historical periods.  We're hoping to find rich and varied material which will really help us understand European perceptions of Wales”.    

A key aim of the project is to build an extensive database of sources uncovered over the coming three years, aimed at both academic and wider audiences. The project website will also offer state-of-the-art mapping tools to allow users to search and uncover information and research by clicking on interactive maps.

The project will reach out to all members of the community with a museum exhibition detailing the outcomes of the research, which will travel around Wales. Local schools and associations will be invited to participate in an extensive events programme. The exhibition also coincides with the project’s international conference in September 2015, which will attract scholars and travel writing enthusiasts from all over the UK and further afield.

The project is eager to discover so far undocumented sources, which might include diaries, memoirs or travel reports of Europeans’ experiences of Wales. If anyone is aware of such sources please contact the team at Like the project’s Facebook page ‘European Travellers to Wales’ or follow the project on twitter ‘European Travellers’


For interviews and media information, please contact the University of Wales Communications Team via communications or 029 20 375057.

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