Borders and Crossings: An International and Multidisciplinary Conference on Travel Writing,
Jan Kochanowski University, Kielce, Poland, 12-14 September 2016
Eva Oppermann, Kassel
Held for the second time in former Eastern Europe, this conference, which is the 13th Borders and Crossings Conference since 1998, was hosted by the Department of Modern Languages of the Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce, Poland. Dr. Agnieszka Szwach and associate professor Magdalena Ożarska, as its main organizers, did an excellent, extremely supportive, job. In eighteen sessions, more than fifty speakers from nearly twenty countries and about fifteen disciplines have covered a wide range of topics concerning travel writing of all ages. The two keynote lectures, “Illusion, immediacy, and the “vehicle of description” in travel writing and travel illustration” by Benjamin Colbert (university of Wolverhampton) and Ludmilla Kostova’s (Methodius University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria) “Intercultural mediation in travel writing and its (dis)contents: the cases of Mary Wortley Montagu and Rebecca West” introduced various topics of wider interest in the field: Colbert discussed the concepts of both the picturesque and subjectivity in connection with travel writing, especially with description and illustration. Kostova introduced xenophilia, interpretation and mediation as means of understanding the “other” in women’s travel writing. The topics of the sessions included a concentration on various national literatures (e.g. Polish, French, Russian and British), gender (women’s travels), non-human travel (esp. animals; the space travel of science fiction was not represented), or travel in important works of literature.
Two aspects made this conference especially enriching for all fields of study: first, the wide range of research areas meeting in Kielce, and second, the high number of young scholars present. The wide range of disciplines present (which included, apart from specialists in several national literatures, specialists in museum work, film making, journalism history, sociology, animal studies, women’s studies, and linguistics, among others) made a wide range of approaches possible, which sometimes included the investigation of the same work from different perspectives (e.g. Cocking’s (journalism) and Oppermann’s (English Lit.) investigation of the motorbike journeys by Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor). This should lead to a fruitful exchange of research results and should become much more common in conferences of which English literature is one main subject. Furthermore, the presence of many young scholars (esp. doctorates) serves to introduce new sights and perspectives to fields of study and can be seen as an excellent chance for presenting one’s work at an early career stage in a friendly, supportive atmosphere. The facts that the conference lunches were held at the conference venue and that the temporal planning was generous further supported the exchange between the single scholars and disciplines.