Travel and exploration

Detail of De Wit mapOur rare book collections contain a great number of fascinating published accounts of travel and exploration from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, together with travel guidebooks, atlases and topographical works. We also hold some archive collections relating to travel writers.

Our collections include accounts of voyages, exploration and expeditions across the globe, notably the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the Middle East, and are often rich in detail about the people, customs and topography of foreign lands.

[Image shown right: detail of a cartouche from a map of the Middle East by Frederick de Wit (see Frederick de Wit's Atlas (c. 1670-1707)).

Detail of illustration from 'Les voyages de Jean Struys' (1681)Early printed books

Some of our earliest travel books are held in the Henley Parish Library, and include Admiranda narratio fida tamen, de commodis et incolarvm ritibvs Virginiæ (1590), a early account of Virginia by Theodorus de Bry, famous for his depictions of early European expeditions to the Americas. Other early accounts of travel and voyages include Les voyages de Jean Struys (1681) [see image shown right] with descriptions of travel in Russia, Asia and Iran.

Other notable works include eighteenth century editions of accounts of Captain Cook's voyages, and early works by Sir Henry M. Stanley (1841–1904), the journalist and explorer who was famous for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer David Livingstone, as well as some early editions of Livingstone's journals.

Our Children's Collection also contains examples of travel writing and books about geography and travel for children. 

A number of highlights from our travel and exploration holdings have been included in our 'Travel Thursday' blog post series.

Illustrated booksIllustration from Luigi Mayer's Views in Egypt, 1801

The Overstone Library contains a number of fine examples of illustrated travel books, including the monumental works of David Roberts - The Holy Land (1842) and Views in ancient Egypt and Nubia (1846), which contain some of the finest topographical book illustrations of the nineteenth century.

Luigi Mayer's 'Views in Egypt' (1801), also held in the Overstone collection, and illustrated with fine coloured aquatint plates [see image shown right], features fascinating descriptions of the dress, manners and customs of the Egyptian people.

Atlases and mapsDetail from John Speed's map of Reading

We hold some important maps and atlases in various parts of the collections, most notably Frederick de Wit's Atlas (c. 1670-1707). John Speed's A prospect of the most famous parts of the world (1631) from the Stenton Library, contains one of the oldest known maps of Reading [see image shown right]. Other early atlases include Jacques Nicolas Bellin’s Le petit atlas maritime (1764) in the Overstone Library collection.

The University of Reading Library has a collection of more than 70,000 maps and atlases. Although most of the material dates from after 1900, there are some early maps including two by the notable Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) - Scotia Regnum (1630?) and Karstia, Carniola, Historia et Windorum marchia (between 1634 and 1638?), the latter printed by Willem Blaeu. Mercator is notable for his innovative depiction of a spherical world map on a flat sheet of paper.

Cover of 'Over the reefs and far away' by Robert GibbingsTwentieth century travel writing

As well as printed books on travel in the twentieth century, we also hold some archive collections relating to travel writers:

Gibbings Collection

The wood-engraver, artist and author Robert Gibbings (1889-1959) is well-known for his travel writings, including Sweet Thames Run Softly (1940) which includes observations and wood engravings of the countryside, the river and its natural history, and Coming down the Wye (1942).

Further afield, Gibbings also wrote Over the Reefs (1948) in which he described his travels in Polynesia and the South Seas, and later Coming down the Seine (1953) and Trumpets from Montparnasse (1955) based on his travels in France and Italy. 

Gibbings also illustrated other travel books, including an edition of The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin (1956), and the Gibbings Collection also contains other travel writing and journals relating to the South Seas and elsewhere from Gibbings's own library.

Papers of Peter Fleming

The collection comprises correspondence, notes, photographs, news cuttings, typescripts and some manuscripts relating to Peter Fleming (1907-1971) who began his career as a special correspondent for The Times on foreign expeditions, including several to China in the 1930s. He is best known for his travel books, Brazilian Adventure (1933) and News from Tartary (1936).

Papers of Robert Henriques

The writing of Robert Henriques (1905–1967) includes Captain Smith and Company, reflecting his experiences in the Territorial Army, and One Hundred Hours to Suez, which reflects his interest in travel and foreign affairs. The collection includes documents relating to his interest in Jewish matters, manuscripts of his books, photographs and correspondence.

About Britain guidesTravel guidebooks

The German publisher Karl Baedeker (1801-1859) produced a famous and successful series of travel guidebooks, and we hold a number of examples in the collections. Lightweight and portable, the 'Baedekers' were the first guidebooks to feature detailed, practical information on hotels and prices, and featured a star rating system to highlight key attractions and facilities.

As well as guidebooks on foreign countries, we also hold some guides for travellers in the United Kingdom. These include the 'About Britain' guides [see image shown right], produced as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951 in the Great Exhibition Collection, and a collection of Shell Guides, a series of guidebooks on the counties of Britain sponsored by the oil company Shell, both of which were aimed at a new generation of motoring tourists in the twentieth century. 

Other University collections

Our holdings complement the collections held at the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication.

The Centre for Ephemera Studies housed within the department holds many travel-related artefacts: tickets, toll notices, MOT certificates, distance charts, air transport labels and many more. One of the highlights of the collection is a collection of airline ephemera, including examples from Quantas and Braniff airlines, and travel-related items from LNER and British Railways.

There are also archive holdings deriving from Ordnance Survey, and many posters advertising resorts and other locations.

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