Call for Proposals

Great Excursions: Travel and the 19th-Century Literary Imagination

A symposium sponsored by the Catharine Maria Sedgwick Society

4-7 June, 2014

Hilton St. Louis Downtown, St. Louis, MO


In honor of Sedgwick’s 225th birthday and her 1854 Midwestern trip (the farthest west she ever traveled), the Catharine Maria Sedgwick Society will convene its 7th symposium in St. Louis, featuring plenary speakers Melissa Homestead, Professor of English at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Kate Culkin, Associate Professor of History at Bronx Community College.

The Society invites proposals that consider the work of Sedgwick or her close contemporaries through the lens of the “excursion” broadly construed—literal or imaginary or stylistic “travel” away from, toward, or through any of topics addressed in her “Great Excursion to the Falls of St. Anthony” sketch or other works.

Much of Catharine Sedgwick’s writing features an excursion of some kind, but none as fantastic in both scale and scope as her “Great Excursion to the Falls of St. Anthony” in June 1854. In the span of 20 days, Sedgwick and approximately 1,000 other excursionists traveled 3,600 miles by rail and steamboat as guests of the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad, the first railroad to reach the Mississippi River from the east coast. Participants traveled individually by train to convene in Chicago, continued west together by rail to Rock Island, Illinois, then north by steamboat toward the headwaters of the Mississippi—beyond St. Paul/Minneapolis to the “Falls of St. Anthony”—then headed downriver to St. Louis before returning to their (mostly) New England homes. The celebrity tour—comprised almost exclusively of northern men (with some women but very few southerners)—included notable politicians, historians, clergymen, scientists, doctors, bankers, publishers, and authors, including Caroline Kirkland and Elizabeth Oakes Smith.

In her letter-cum-sketch “The Great Excursion to the Falls of St. Anthony,” Sedgwick claimed that this 1854 adventure was “an illustration and proof of the advancement of true civilization.” “Proof” to whom? What kind(s) of “advancement”? And what does she mean by “true civilization?” These questions prompt others: What about a journey is “worth” paying attention to and/or commemorating? How does travel change the traveler? What are the purposes of writing about one’s travels? How does an excursion “transport” or “transform” a writer/her characters/her readers? Proposals might also consider

·        the cultural significance of “great excursions”
·        travel literature/literal excursions and the picturesque
·        material culture, transportation, foodways, hospitality
·        fictional excursions
·        immigration, cultural and religious conversions
·        literary representations of the Midwest in Sedgwick’s works
·        transatlantic travels and literary networks
·        reading/representing the landscape
·        the state of the union as reflected in narratives of travel
·        the role of historic sites, cemeteries, place names in commemoration and national identity
·        changing perspectives of slavery, gender roles, education, and the economy
·        pedagogical approaches/teaching “adventures” with Sedgwick or others

Please e-mail proposals of no more than 250 words by Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, to Jenifer Elmore, CMSS Second Vice-President for Programs: