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How does travel shape our histories?

The WVU History Department, along with WVU President E. Gordon Gee, pose this question and lead the discussion. For further reading, I added a link to Cannot Stay, WVU English Professor Kevin Oderman's collection of creative non-fiction essays on the experience of being a traveler.  

Historians aim to provide us with an accurate and illuminating understanding of the past.  Through their research, which often involves travel, historians uncover fascinating new evidence and clues.  As a result of their careful investigations, our stories of the past are updated constantly. How does travel shape the questions historians ask, the way they understand themselves and their own culture, and the way they understand the people, places, ideas and time periods they study?  How does travel crack open and shed light upon the body of evidence used to shape and inform our stories of the past? 

How does travel change us?  Given the troubles, costs, and dangers, why do we travel at all? How does the migration of people, ideas, art, culture, and material goods shake things up?  How does getting out of your comfort zone, through the experience of travel, challenge and transform your way of thinking about reality?

THE QUESTION aims to raise big questions, provide educational guidance for stirring up conversation, and most importantly, to build community around the discussion of ideas. We are looking forward to hearing from YOU!   We want to hear from travelers, historians, and thoughtful people from West Virginia, and from all over the world, sharing ideas, questions and personal experiences in the blog.  

  • Katherine Aaslestad       

    Katherine Aaslestad, Ph.D., Professor of History

    Travel has shaped the way I think about history and the way I conduct my own historical research.        

    Read the Essay

  • Kate Staples     

    Kate Kelsey Staples, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History

    Travel is how I fell in love with what I do; it’s also made me better at what I do.

    Read the Essay

  • Josh Arthurs              

    Joshua Arthurs, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History

    I write this response from Rome, a city that looms large both in my personal history and in the histories that I study as a scholar of modern Italy. I first came to the Eternal City in the early 1990s, on a study abroad program for Classics majors.        

    Read the Essay

  • Zac Cowsert          
    Zac Cowsert, WVU History Graduate Student

    To the casual observer, history often appears static. Most historians appear to spend their lives pensively analyzing long-dead people, places, and events, and most folks imagine historians either behind the desk writing or behind the podium lecturing. One would not think that history and travel go hand in hand. 
    Read the Essay

  • Luke Gramith     

    Luke Gramith, WVU History Graduate Student

    Travel is a fact of life for historians. We go to the sources because, in most cases, the sources can’t come to us. But if travel is a pleasure, I think it’s a  necessary  pleasure.

    Read the Essay 

  • Lucas Pennock     

    Lucas Pennock, WVU History Graduate Student
    Upon returning to Morocco after journeying through Africa and Asia, noted 14th century explorer Ibn Battuta remarked, “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”  

    Read the Essay

  • Joseph Snyder     

    Joseph Snyder, WVU History Graduate Student

    Travel presents you with circumstances that both raise and answer research questions you didn’t even know you should have asked. 

    Read the Essay

  • Joshua Childs          

    Joshua Childs, WVU History Undergraduate Student

    Travel relates to historiography and how we understand the past because travel - especially immersive experiences like studying or working in a foreign country - helps give us new perspective, insight, and context that shapes the way we see the world around us.

    Read the Essay 

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  • Learn More  WVU English Professor Kevin Oderman's latest book, Cannot Stay (2015 Etruscan Press), is a collection of essays about being a traveler. Check it out.    

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