Last week we launched the Postcard Project to explore why people visit places associated with nineteenth-century writers. We’ve been thrilled with the response so far and will be sharing the first few postcards with you shortly. But why alongside a conference primarily focused on literary tourism in the nineteenth century are we so interested in present-day experiences?
My fascination with the complex motivations that underpin engagement with literary sites began in 2013, during a postdoctoral project based at the newly restored Charles Dickens Museum, London. I had visited the house previously, but the opportunity to work there over a prolonged period felt different. I was thrilled to be doing research on Dickens in such close proximity to the space in which the author lived and worked from 1837-39. Although after a few weeks I became inured to sharing the space that Dickens had occupied more than 170 years earlier, I would still sometimes find myself powerfully affected by the rooms and the objects they contained. Other visitors spoke similarly of being moved by the place, regardless of their level of prior interest in the author and his novels. At the same time, it was clear that people chose to come to the museum for many different reasons, some of which had curiously little to do with the author who once lived there.
‘Placing the Author’ will examine some of the politics and practices involved in ‘placing’ nineteenth-century writers and explore how literary sites were consecrated and consumed. Planning the conference led me, Jo and Amber to reflect on our own reasons for visiting authors’ houses and ponder whether our motives are actually any different to those of our nineteenth-century forbears. The idea for the Postcard Project grew from here, rooted in a sense that if we could better understand the persistent fascination with birthplaces, residences, graves, monuments, museums and blue plaques connected with nineteenth-century writers, we could enrich understanding of literary tourism past and present. The digital ‘postcards’ collected here, which picture the respondent at the site and outline why they went and what they took from the experience, are intended to prompt discussion and reflection that will feed into the conference via a closing roundtable, but will also build into a lasting collection of importance in its own right.
The project is open to anyone who has visited a site associated with any nineteenth-century writer, anywhere in the world. To take part, all you need to do is send us a photo, telling us when and where the photo was taken, why you went (max 100 words) and what you got out of the experience (max 150 words). You can email your photo and response to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @placingauthor. After moderation the responses will be posted on the website.*
* Images need to be a minimum 72dpi in quality (and ideally 300dpi for printing). Please note that by contributing to the project you agree to place the text and image you supply under a Creative Commons license (Attribution CC BY, unless you state otherwise). You can find out more about Creative Commons licenses here.