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Histories of Tourism

by Paul Abruzzo (Libraries) on 2024-04-15T10:01:00-04:00 in History, Sociology | 0 Comments

One great benefit of being married to a fiction writer who always does a lot of background research for her stories is that I get to stumble upon topics I might not have ever considered in the books that lay scattered around the house. The other day I picked one up that was on our dining room table called Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century by John F. Sears.* 

I almost always look first at a book’s publication date, publisher, and author bio. It’s important to know these things in order to judge the trustworthiness of the information (what we call, in the library world, the information’s authority). 


The book came out in 1989, and that may or may not be relevant in our judgment (again, the library world terminology for this is the information’s currency). For instance, it’s possible that certain commonly held assumptions in the history of tourism have changed in the last 30 years. It could be that subsequent scholarship radically altered the field of knowledge.   


Oxford University Press published the book, and its author, at the time, was Executive Director of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. I knew nothing about this institute, except to guess, since it’s in Hyde Park, N.Y., that it’s contained within FDR’s estate, the site of a National Park with a museum and library on its grounds. University presses housed in prestigious institutions, in general, have authority independent of the author since the works they publish go through a process of rigorous peer review. That means, in the case of prestigious publishers, we don’t necessarily have to vet the author’s authority, since the publisher has already done it for us.  


In any case, I turned to the opening paragraph of the book’s introduction: 


               "Tourism had become well established in Europe, and particularly in England, 

               by the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Stimulated by the popularity of 

               landscape gardening and painting, and by the publication of a series of widely 

               read essays on the sublime, the beautiful, and the picturesque, well-to-do

               English people were seized by a mania for traveling in search of picturesque

               and sublime scenery."


I am, by nature perhaps, skeptical, and so I wondered if these claims were verifiable. The historian did not provide a citation. It is of course perfectly acceptable to leave commonly held knowledge uncited (we could easily fall into a satire of pedantic scholarship, for instance, by citing sentences that claim things like “Since the earth orbits the sun…”). Sears’s opening facts may indeed be obviously valid to a reader who knows the social history of Europe during the period. But I decided, in any case, to do a little research into the history of tourism using the New School Libraries’ databases, just to see if I could come up with any corroborating or conflicting information. 


From our library homepage, I decided to use the federated search box. From here, we’re able to search the library catalog, which includes our partner libraries, along with many of our databases. I like to use one or two-word searches in the very beginning of a search on a given topic, particularly because I thought it would retrieve a reference book article: they can be highly useful in the first stage of research through informing broadly, while also providing commonly held authoritative sources. I typed “tourism” in the box. In the left-hand column, under Resource Type, I click on Reference Entries in order to narrow my results. That gave me exactly what I thought I could find. I chose an entry from the Encyclopedia Britannica to start (the version in our databases is richer than the free, online version since it has a section with Additional Reading, and also has the benefit of avoiding advertisements ). The article basically affirmed a portion of the information in Sears’ introduction, adding that: “....tourism is a product of modern social arrangements, beginning in western Europe in the 17th century, although it has antecedents in Classical antiquity.” I scrolled down to the sources for the article and found this: “John Towner, An Historical Geography of Recreation and Tourism in the Western World, 1540–1940 (1996), is rather descriptive and becoming dated but is still the best overall introduction to the subject….”


That led me to check the catalog, and I discovered that one of our partner libraries has it. I could request it be sent to one of the New School’s libraries in order to dig deeper into the questions I had about the origin of tourism, and whether or not any of Sears’ claims were at all controversial.


The process I just outlined is exactly the kind of thing any of our librarians can help with if you’re confused about how or where to start. We can answer questions via email, chat, the phone, in person at one of the service desks in our libraries, or through the setting up of a one-to-one consultation, in-person or via video.    


*A day later, I searched our catalog. The New School Libraries owns a print copy it, offsite. Our offsite material can be easily retrieved by logging into the catalog with your New School email username and password in order to request it be sent to one of our libraries: when it arrives you’ll get an email that it’s ready to be picked up. 

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