On this page we consider travel writing, a broad category that includes books, pamphlets, and other works written by visitors to Florida. Unlike personal diaries or private correspondence, travel writing was published and intended for a reading audience. This is important to remember when interpreting this type of primary source.
One of the most interesting things about travel writing for historians is what it reveals about the writer. Certainly travel writing can be useful for the information it provides about Florida, its people, and the natural environment, but travel writers are not objective, unbiased narrators. They arrived in Florida with their own cultural perspectives, expectations, and agendas. By thinking critically about the authors, we can carefully retrieve information about the past and the ways in which historical actors understood (and misunderstood) Florida.
As you read examples of travel writing, ask yourself the following questions:
Below is an excerpt from Alonso Gregorio de Escobedo's epic poem, La Florida, which scholars believe was written after Escobedo had returned to Spain, sometime between 1598 and 1615. La Florida is written in verse, a popular genre of the time. You will notice the meter and rhyme if you read the original text in Spanish. The following excerpt is from Canto 27.
The original manuscript is in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, Spain, and has been digitized. An annotated Spanish edition was published in 2015 by Alexandra E. Sununu. The English translation provided here is by Thomas Hallock, edited by Mikaela Perron, part of the Early Visions of Florida project at the University of South Florida.
The page numbers follow the original manuscript, where each numbered page has both a recto and a verso. Recto is the front of the page, and would appear on the right side of a bound book. Verso is the back, or reverse, of that page number, and would appear on the left of a bound book after turning the page. Thus we read in order, 336 recto, 336 verso, 337 recto, 337 verso, etc. I have included a digital image of the 336 verso and 337 recto pages as they appear in the original manuscript. Transcripts follow the image, with the English and Spanish versions of each page shown side by side.
Try answering each question for yourself before clicking to reveal my interpretation.
Because travel writing most often takes the form of a published book, you can find many examples of travel writing by searching the library catalog. These works often have one of the following "subject headings," or tags, attached to them:
Combine any of these terms with a geographic place to find travel writings about that place.
Try searching for "Florida," "Southern States," or "West Indies" along with one of these subject headings.
It's important to note that these tags used in library catalogs are in many ways out-dated. The seemingly harmless phrase "discovery and exploration" actually describes books about violent encounters between European military expeditions and the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. We may have to use these phrases to find books in this category, but with our skills as historians we are equipped to read these sources critically.
The Early Visions of Florida website, from which we borrow Thomas Hallock's translation of Escobedo's La Florida, provides an excellent bibliography of travel writing about Florida from the first arrival of the Spaniards to the mid-nineteenth century.
You will also find digitized examples of travel writing in the following databases licensed by FSU Libraries:
Many scholars have examined the ways in which travel writing has contributed to the exploitative projects of 18th, 19th, and 20th century empires. As the author of this guide, I am also influenced by this scholarship. When travel writers described a place as backward or primitive, they helped to justify conquest and colonization in the name of spreading "civilization" and "modernity." For example, the conquistadors that described Florida did so as part of their personal and imperial interest in acquiring land, slaves, and valuable resources. Spanish missionaries documented the languages and cultural practices of indigenous peoples in order to more easily convert them to Catholicism.
The following books have helped me to think about travel writing as both a complicated primary sources and a tool of imperialism.