Postgraduate Research – Emma Gleadhill

Travelling Trifles: The Souvenirs of Late Eighteenth Century Female British Tourists

Robert Fagan, “Elizabeth Lady Webster, later Lady Holland,” 1793. Oil on Canvas. Source: Andrew Wilton, and Ilaria Bignamini, Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century (London: Tate Gallery Publishing, 1996), 64

My project challenges the homogenous image of the Grand Tour as an elite male social ritual by examining the souvenirs female British tourists collected during the late eighteenth century. It was in the late eighteenth century that the term souvenir was first used in English and metonymic objects for personal use or exchange became an intrinsic part of the material culture of travel. This establishment of the souvenir as a tourist object cannot be separated from the feminisation and of travel. While the display of travel objects began as an exclusively elite male pursuit, in the late eighteenth century increasing numbers of female tourists reinterpreted Grand Tour objects, like scientific specimens and antiquities usually restricted to elite men, to suit their own purposes; brought home newly commercialised trifles and knick-knacks; and souvenired tokens from the travel environment itself. Yet, while eighteenth-century women’s material lives have recently been well explored, there has been little discussion of eighteenth-century travel souvenirs, except as décor, or as support for male Grand Tourist’s claims. My project asks: What material strategies did late eighteenth century women employ to access travel’s cultural capital? How did they use this capital to achieve their social, intellectual and political aims? And how did gender influence their actions and how they were perceived? I argue that the collection and display of souvenirs allowed increasing numbers of women to reshape themselves in relation to a range of experiences previously unavailable to their sex and, in turn, reshape the practice of travel.