Next semester, literature major Haley Tietz ’19 plans to study abroad in India. And she wants to know how to write about it.
“I’m trying to understand the relationship between feminism and Orientalism in travel writing, and whether it is possible to write about travel in a way that is not problematic,” said Tietz. The topic of her 2017 Emerson Grant project, The Traveler's Dilemma: Feminism vs. Orientalism in Travel Writing, explores this phenomenon, ultimately aiming to develop a criteria for modern travel writing by a white woman in India that does not perpetuate colonialism.
After first becoming interested in the topic of female travelers last fall, Tietz knew she wanted to further study travel writing, and its evolution as a literary genre. She began her research assuming that contemporary travel writing has progressed from its imperialist 19th century predecessors.
What she found, however, was that the genre has not advanced much from its dubious roots: “It’s just different,” said Tietz.
This discovery provided Tietz with a way to approach the evolution, or lack thereof, of the genre, focusing on evidence of feminism and colonialism in contemporary travel literature. Before studying primary sources, Tietz hopes to gain a better understanding of modern postcolonial theory on white portrayals of the “East,” reading Edward Said’s Orientalism along with scholarship on travel writing.
Hometown: Sunnyvale, Calif.
High School: Homestead High School
Once she completes this research, Tietz plans to read travel writing by white women, travel writing by Indian women raised in Western countries, and travel writing by Indian women raised in India, spreading the primary accounts evenly between 1865 and 2015.
By widely distributing her sources, Tietz hopes to understand how the differences in an author's perspective change the depiction of India in literature.
By understanding historical context and paying special attention to whose voice is privileged in each text, a truthful portrayal of India can be found beneath the author's unconscious natural bias.
“I guess the thing I want most is to remind people that travel writers are not an authority on the place they visit. Travel does not happen in a vacuum, and at the very least you have to recognize the history behind what you are reading,” said Tietz.