In a convention of Western tourism which has become so taken for granted that it risks passing without remark, it is often said that people travel to "see" the world, and it is assumed that travel knowledge is substantially gained through observation. This longstanding association between travel and vision, tourism and sightseeing, demands closer scrutiny. It has not always existed, it has undergone important modifications even for its duration, and its history offers intriguing glimpses into earlier phases of Western epistemology and subjectivity. The practices of the contemporary sightseer, so often caricatured with his camera in tow, must ultimately be understood in relation to the historical development (and eventual popularization) of post-Baconian and Lockean orientations toward the problem of attaining, and authoritatively representing, knowledge. They must be seen in relation to forms of subjectivity anchored in willfully independent vision and in the cognitive subjugation of a world of "things."
Travel was first widely proclaimed as an art, and openly secular forms of tourism were first systematically practiced by European elites, in the early sixteenth century. One need only turn to the treatises on travel method produced during a period which was preoccupied with the problem of "method" in all branches of learning to find evidence that sightseeing did not always enjoy its later pride of place. The travelers that treatises addressed, scholar-courtiers and young aristocrats preparing for diplomatic and legal careers, went abroad seeking educational experience at universities in Paris, Bologna, or Padua, as well as opportunities to engage the services of Europe's foremost dancing, music, fencing, or riding masters with whom they would be forced to speak in a foreign tongue. Books played a prominent part in the preparation for a journey and their purchase was one of its objects. The aristocratic traveler who was addressed, often by his tutor, in early manuals on advice went abroad for discourse rather than for picturesque views or scenes. The art of travel he was urged to cultivate was in large measure one of discoursing with the living and the dead--learning foreign tongues, obtaining access to foreign courts, conversing gracefully with eminent men, assimilating classical texts appropriate to particular sites, and, not least, speaking eloquently upon his return. At a time when the social role of the nobility was being transformed and burgeoning institutions of diplomacy opened new opportunities in a courtier's career ( Mat tingly 1955:211), European aristocracies sustained an art of travel, explicitly legitimized by service to the state, which sought to develop international contacts, judicious political judgment, adeptness at foreign languages, and skill in oratory deemed desirable in a prince's counselor. The experience of the world at which this was aimed was understood to involve primarily a reflective and disciplined exercise of the ear and the tongue.
Advice to "confer with expert men and with many," to go a hundred miles out of one's way to speak with a wise man, rather than five to see a fair town, and to be neither credulous nor overly eager to contradict when in conference was reiterated in one early travel sermon after another. Many travelers carried with them a book of blank pages, an Album Amicorum, with which they would call on men of reputation, begging them to inscribe some words.
The notion of travel as an exercise in universalizing discourse, particularly fitting to scholastic notions of how knowledge was to be sought, endured for a long time. But it was increasingly overlapped and eventually eclipsed by another tradition, which gave preeminence to the "eye" and to silent "observation." To a modern reader, one of the most anomalous features of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century travel sermons is the consistency with which they digress into human anatomy, rhetorically arguing the superiority of the eye over the ear. With inevitable juridical reference, travel is praised through favorable contrast between "eyewitness" and "hearsay" as legally admissible evidence and ground for valid judgment. Auricular knowledge and discourse identified with traditional authority, Aristotelianism, and the Schoolmen are devalued in favor of an "eye" believed to yield direct, unmediated, and personally verified experience. The shift accompanies a new naturalistic orientation and attains its purest expression in the seventeenth century, when it is nurtured by a fashion in courtly circles for Natural Philosophy and an epistemological individualism which enjoins every man to "see," verify, and, in a sense, create" the world anew for himself.