Technology brings the travels of Victorian explorers to life

Tour Builder
Image and map data: © 2014 Google, US Dept of State Geographer, Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO.

While on vacation in Rockland, Maine, English Professor Suzanne Flynn stepped into a local used book shop and came across an illustrated book, Victorians Abroad by John S. Goodall.  The book depicts Victorians traveling around the world – from the streets of Paris to the pyramids of Egypt. Little did she know at the time, this book would serve as the inspiration for a new course incorporating travel narratives and technology, Eng 344: Victorians Abroad.

Prof. Suzanne Flynn“I was intrigued by the idea of creating a course that looked at the phenomenon in the 19th century of the everyday, ordinary person traveling all over the world,” said Flynn. True globalization began in that time, she said, as the invention of the steam engine introduced travel by rail and ship, allowing the middle class to travel farther than they had before. Prior to this time, only the military, merchants, or wealthy individuals had the opportunity to travel abroad.

The course examines the travel writings (both fictional and non-fictional) of well-known and lesser-known writers and explorers - such as Isabella Lucy Bird, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Darwin, and Anna Leonowens - who ventured beyond their everyday surroundings.

“Before this class, I never associated Victorians with an intense urge to travel abroad,” said Ryan Bonner ’14, an English major. “Comparing each traveler’s writing upon visiting each location was fascinating. We saw the beginnings of a global perspective form in these travelers, and while their writing did not always align with our own contemporary understanding of the world, it was interesting to see similarities and differences.”

Map of the World 1886

Map of the World in 1886

This past spring was the second time Flynn has taught the course.  For the final project, students presented in pairs on a particular Victorian traveler and provided biographical information about each traveler’s life and travel destinations around the world. 

“When I last taught this course several years ago, I had students use a wall-sized laminated map with dry erase markers to show each traveler’s journey in the final presentation,” said Flynn. This time, Flynn was introduced to the Google Earth product, Tour Builder (currently in beta). Flynn, a proponent of the use of technology in the classroom, immediately saw the benefits of using such a program to visually bring the travels of Victorian explorers to life.

Tour Builder gave students the opportunity to combine photographs, text, and video, while plotting the locations traveled for each individual on a map. “Students, especially those in the humanities, need to feel comfortable with technology.  Tour Builder allowed students to combine the verbal with the visual and create a multi-dimensional final project, while gaining a skill in the process,” said Flynn.

Flynn worked with Gettysburg College's Instructional Technology & Training (ITT) to arrange three workshops for the class: the first workshop was an overview of the program with a staff member in ITT, and the next two workshops allowed students to work on their projects with assistance available if needed.

“There are always a few bumps in the road when working with new technology, especially since Tour Builder was in beta. I thought it was rather easy to learn, and it was even easier for my students,” said Flynn.

Bonner, who worked on the life of Anthony Trollope, agrees.

“There was a bit of a learning curve getting to know the ins and outs of Tour Builder, but as with almost all Google software, it was mostly intuitive and easy to use. Tour Builder’s stellar animation helped me gain a better grasp on Anthony Trollope’s travels. Using a completely new presentation platform is exciting in itself; it made us feel like trailblazers in educational technology.”

Visualizing the travels of each explorer helped the students feel more engaged and connected to the course material. According to Tara MacMahon ’16, an English major who presented on the life and travels of Anna Leonowens, the ability to zoom in and out gave a unique perspective on the geography of each location as well as the immense distance between the destinations.  “It made their journeys all the more tangible and impressive, especially when you think about modes of travel in the Victorian era,” she said.

A website was created for the students to display their final tours. You can view the explorations of six Victorian travelers by installing the Google Earth plug-in for your computer: Isabella Lucy Bird, Richard Francis Burton, Constance Gordon Cumming, Charles Darwin, Anna Leonowens, and Anthony Trollope. Flynn plans to submit the tours to Google to be considered for the Tour Builder gallery.

“As an English major, I read a lot of books and write a lot of papers; this course brought a unique approach to studying writers and their work,” said Bonner.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Shawna Sherrell, senior assistant director of creative services, 717.337.6812

Posted: Mon, 18 Aug 2014

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