Travel writing and tourism

Travel writing

Travel writing is not a single, homogeneous genre. It embraces a wide diversity of travel-related texts, the literary travel books, but also traveler's journals, diaries and letters, ships' logs and reports of merchants. Because travelers visit foreign countries, travel writing always comprises an interplay between 'difference' and 'similarity', between 'alterity' and 'identity'.

9-10, 19, 97

Central to the genre of travel writing it the literary form that is often labeled as 'travel book', a first-person, ostensibly non-fictional narrative of a journey. The travel book claims to be a true record of the traveler's own experience abroad. However, the author has to combine two different roles of reporter and story teller, which easily leads to a subtle blend of factual account and fictional elements. The crafting of the travel experience into a travel text inevitably introduces a fictive dimension, at least at the level of filtering events.

From Grand Tour to modern tourism

A large part of the journeys before 1800 were undertaken with the motivation of the Grand Tour. This was the traditional trip undertaken by mainly upper class European young men (as well as young women of sufficient means and accompanied by a chaperon). It was a sort of educational rite of passage. France and Italy, in particular Rome, were the primary destinations. These young travelers were supposed to gather useful knowledge by visiting the remains of classical antiquity and to complete in this way their education in classics.


In the course of the nineteenth century greater numbers began to travel recreationally, backed by an emerging tourist industry and facilitated by new means of transport, such as the steamboat and railways. In the 1830s Baedeker began publishing guidebooks for tourist and a decade later Thomas Cook introduced the package holiday, organized by a travel agency.


Many travelers were driven by a Romantic desire to visit places of unspoilt nature and cultures seemingly untouched by modernity. This was often accompanied by some feeling op cultural or moral superiority: the tourist placed himself at a higher level than the people of the country in which he travelled.

Portrait of Francis Basset, 1st Baron de Dunstanville and Basset (1757-1835). Pompeo Batoni, 1778. Prado Museum, Madrid (Wikimedia Commons). Francis leans on ancient Roman altar, which symbolizes the antiquities. Visiting this cultural heritage was an important aim of the journey.
Female travelers

For centuries women have been reluctant in publishing their travel experiences and were more inclined to keep their writing for private consumption.

Positioning herself in the public sphere contravened the prevailing, patronizing ideology. Notions of female 'modesty' tend to make female travel accounts less heroic than many male counterparts.


Before 1900 women had a tendency to more subjective and picturesque descriptions and to concern themselves with domestic details, rather than with politics, economics and other major aspects of society.

Holland mania

By the end of the nineteenth century Americans realized their European roots and objected to the predominantly English interpretation of American history and identity.

Dutch roots

Around 1900 a revisionist trend in the historical writing in America emphasized the Dutchness in American culture. In 1903 the Ladies' Home Journal praised Holland as the source of America's political and cultural roots. The vital institutions of the country were based on a Dutch heritage: free public education, religious freedom, freedom of press and the secret ballot.

These values had been brought to America by the Pilgrim Fathers, the Puritan dissenters who had left England during the reign of king James I and had settled in Holland for 12 years, before leaving for America. Revisionist historians considered this stay in the Netherlands as vital for their moral values of the Pilgrims.

The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers. George Henry Boughton, 1869. Museums Sheffield, United Kingdom (The Athenaeum).
Historical writing: Motley and Campbell

The basic source of Dutch history was John Lothrop Motley's popular books The Rise of the Dutch Republic (1855) and History of the United Netherlands (1867). In these works Motley created a heroic image of the Dutch people, who succeeded to free themselves from the evil Spaniards. He saw the love of liberty and the principle of self-government as most distinctive and prevailing characteristics of the emerging Dutch nation in the seventeenth century.

In his view there was a straight line between this political and moral constellation of the Dutch Republic and the American society of his time.


The Holland-centric idea was most sharply profiled by Douglas Campbell's in his two-volume treatise The Puritan in Holland, England and America: An Introduction to American History (1898). Campbell was a lawyer with strong historical interests and a suggestive style of writing (his book was a real bestseller ― although less positively received in the academic circles).

He concluded that most American institutions and values had come from the Netherlands, either directly through Dutch settlers, or indirectly through Holland's cultural influence on England.


For example, the American Declaration of Independence would have been grafted upon the Dutch Declaration of Independence (Act of Abjuration), made in the revolt against Spanish domination.


The non-academic popularization of Campbell's ideas was due to the eloquent writing by William Elliott Griffis, a versatile man and prolific author. He was in close correspondence with Campbell and also considered the Dutch Republic as the source of cultural wealth, from which substantial elements had been exported to America. This is clearly apparent in the title of his book Brave Little Holland and What she Taught us (1894). In his travel book The American in Holland; sentimental rambles in the eleven provinces of the Netherlands (1899) he often points out the parallels between Dutch and American history and the similarities of customs in both countries.

John Lathrop Motley, between 1855 and 1865 (Wikimedia Commons).
William Elliot Griffis, before 1901 (Wikimedia Commons).
Travel books with historical flashbacks

Travel books suggested a historical tour through the Netherlands and memorized historical facts worth knowing for important cities travelled through. A good example is William Griffis's The American in Holland, in which he recounts an historical anecdote in each place. Everywhere he saw parallels and connections with American history.


At the same time the notion spread, that the ideas and spirit of the seventeenth century Dutch Republic were essentially modern, and similar to the mentality of contemporary America.


American travel literature emphasized Dutch fine art. The prevalent notion was that Holland was old-fashioned and unchanging and visitors thought to recognize the landscape and atmosphere of the paintings by seventeenth century masters. Visiting the Netherlands was experienced as a form of time travel.


"In effect, Americans thought of going to Holland as entering an elaborate tableau vivant, a popular form of entertainment in which each participant assumed the dress and pose of a figure from a famous work of art in order to create a 'living picture'. Charles Howell said he liked Scheveningen because 'here one sees in actual life the fascinating things he has marveled over in the canvases of Teniers, Jan Steen and Gerard Dou."

Artists going to Holland

In 1880 and 1881 George Henry Boughton and Edwin Austin Abbey made sketches in the Netherlands. Their work was published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine and used to demonstrate the authenticity of Dutch roots of the contemporary American culture.

102-104; 131-132; see main page, An American view of Holland.

Some women went to Holland for academic education. Female artists worked in Netherlands with more experienced compatriots, like Emma Lampert Cooper and Wilhelmina Hawley, who also painted typical Dutch country scenes and people in traditional costumes. The American painter George Hitchcock attracted notice in the Paris Salon of 1885 with his work of Dutch tulip garden. For years he had a studio near Egmond aan Zee, Netherlands, where he started his art summer school that later resulted in a group that informally became the Egmondse School.


One of the most successful artists, who used contemporary Holland as source for the visualization of historic America was Walter MacEwen. He was strongly inspired by Johan Vermeer and borrowed many motifs in his work from this painter.

In 1884 a colleague, Charles Frederich Ulrich, painted the printing shop of Joh. Enschedé at Haarlem. This painting carried an underlying reference to the invention of movable type claimed by the Dutch. At the same time, it was related to the freedom of the press. Technological innovation, intellectual freedom and tolerance were important values ascribed to the America's Dutch heritage.

Another frequently praised virtue of the Dutch people was their courage in the continuous fight against water, demonstrated in extensive land reclamation and a reliable system of dykes. Elizabeth Nourse created a pictorial representation of this notion in her painting On the dyke at Volendam. This work exudes the stability and solidity that American visitors ascribed to the Dutch national character.

107-113; 117-119

In the second half of the nineteenth century ships became safer and faster, which stimulated transoceanic travel. In 1880s American tourist travel to Holland became significant, also aided by the foundation of the Holland America Line in 1893 (originally named 'Nederlandsche-Amerikaansche Stoomvaart Maatschappij'). During the first 25 years the company carried 400,000 people over the ocean.


By the 1890s American publishers began producing their own books about Holland. These reflected the positive Romantic view of the Holland Mania. Writers were full of praise for the beauty of the Dutch landscape, which induced a spirit of quiet restfulness, as one of them, William Griffis, noted. The title of his Brave Little Holland and What She Taught Us (1894), is characteristic of this positive attitude.

Others appreciated the "kind and peaceable disposition" of the Dutch people, their "high principle of honor and morality" (Charles Taylor, 1900) and the industrious, persevering nature (Louise Robinson), observations that are in stark contrast with those by some British travelogue authors, who discovered sloth and laziness in the Dutch working class.


Visitors were advised to go to smaller places to get the authentic character of the Netherlands, which was missing in big cities like Rotterdam, Amsterdam and the Hague. In the rural districts one would find the windmills and people wearing wooden shoes and sleeping "in a bed inside a cupboard" (i.e. an enclosed bed). Canal boats were the best means of transport to escape from the busy urban life, in search of locals wearing old costumes and the typical air of the seventeenth century. Touring through the countryside by bike was also recommended for the same reason.


Many tourists went to Delft, Edam, Veere, Marken, Volendam and Zaandam, and ― last but not least ― Broek in Waterland (in contemporary sources shortly 'Broek'). Broek had the reputation of the cleanest village and had already been a tourist attraction for decades. Tourist agencies organized day trips to Volendam and Marken. In Marken widow Marretje Thijssen Teerhuis opened her home as a show place to visitors willing to pay a fee.


The influx of tourists, Americans in particular, stimulated the growth of small scale local tourist activities, which also had its downside. Children started begging and bothering visitors, which some people could handle better than others.

Moreover, about 1910 the anachronistic image of the Netherlands began to annoy many Dutch people, who did not want their country to be advertised any longer as a living museum, disregarding the innovation, railways and modern industry, which had made their appearance by that time.

Two women in an interior. Walter MacEwen, ca. 1900. (Wikimedia Commons).
On the dike at Volendam. Elisabeth Nourse, 1892. (Wikimedia Commons).
The Village Printing Shop, Haarlem, the Netherlands. Charles Frederic Ulrich, 1884 (Wikimedia Commons).

Bodt, S. de (2015) 'Holland' in Amerikaanse kinderogen. Hoe de clichés over Nederland zich via geïllustreerde kinderboeken verspreiden. Literatuur zonder leeftijd 96 (2015) p. 101-116 [pdf].

Gorp, B. van & Béneker, T (2007) Holland as other place and other time: alterity in projected tourist images of the Netherlands. GeoJournal 68 (2007) p. 293-305

Seed, D. (2004) Nineteenth-Century Travel Writing: An Introduction. The Yearbook of English Studies 34 (2004) p. 1-5.

Stott, A. (1998) Holland Mania. The Unknown Dutch Period in American Art & Culture. New York: Overlook Press.

Stowe, W.W. (1994) Going abroad. European travel in nineteenth-century American culture. Princeton (New Jersey): Princeton University press.

Thompson, C. (2011) Travel writing. London, New York: Routledge.

    Endnotes will appear here