Autumn, the season of waiting. Everest climbers stow away their ropes and crampons. The polar explorer watches the sun disappear and settles in for the encroaching winter. Expedition wonks like me shelve their boxes of research to tend to their courses and panicky undergraduates. These are the Ides of September, a time of imagining other places we’d rather be.
Time to work on the winter reading list.
On mine: Mary Terrall’s The Man Who Flattened the Earth: Maupertuis and the Sciences in the Enlightenment, James Delbourgo and Nicholas Dew’s Science and Empire in the Atlantic World, Gary Kroll’s America’s Ocean Wilderness: A Cultural History of Twentieth Century Exploration, and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Probably something related to K2 as well if I can find it.
For those looking for the raw material of voyaging, untouched by the meddling hands of historians, try American Journeys, an online collection of 18,000 pages of travel narratives from the Vikings of 1000 to the Western Surveys of the 19th century. Read the voyage of Eric the Red, Columbus’s discussion of cannibals and Amazons, or La Perouse’s doomed voyage around the world.
Or see Early Canadiana Online, an archive of almost 40,000 documents chronicling Canadian history, including travel narratives of the Far North. (The history of the Hudson Bay Company alone accounts for 20,000 pages). Much of this should be read with an open tin of pemmican.
Finally, one has to pay a visit to the American Memory project of the Library of Congress, which includes narratives of early Western exploration, maritime voyages, prairie settlement, Rocky Mountain migration, photos of the Great Plains, and documents on Lewis and Clark among others.
Are there online travel archives that I’ve missed? Book favorites? What will you be reading during the winter gloaming? Let me know.