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Exploring explorers, travellers, and tourists: digital humanities approaches in North America and the United Kingdom

Étudier les explorateurs, les voyageurs et les touristes : approches des humanités numériques en Amérique du Nord et au Royaume-Uni
Kevin James et Gavin Hughes


Des études de cas en Grande-Bretagne, au Canada et aux États-Unis illustrent le large éventail de projets utilisant des outils et des techniques associés aux humanités numériques (digital humanities), qui viennent élargir la portée et l’échelle des enquêtes sur l’histoire du tourisme et du voyage. Des entretiens avec des personnalités associées au développement de ces outils à propos de leurs programmes de recherche révèlent un ensemble d’intérêts, d’ambitions et de limites communs, ainsi que diverses façons dont les humanités numériques peuvent être incorporées avec profit dans des projets visant à faire progresser les paradigmes théoriques, liés aux spatialités et aux études postcoloniales par exemple.

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The authors wish to thank the interviewees for generously sharing their expertise and reflections, as well as for reviewing a draft of this submission.

1One of the largest growing areas of scholarly interest is the use of digital techniques in the humanities; far more than a set of techniques for exploring sources, the digital humanities offer a range of new forms of research design, approaches, and frameworks, many of which sit at the crossroads of fields and disciplines. History is characterised by intrinsic catholicity and is adept at incorporating methods and insights from the digital humanities: practitioners of tourism history—the field of enquiry under examination in this issue—have evinced flexibility and creativity in their adoption of digital sources and techniques.

2Increasing computing power, as well as the wider availability of free applications, has made the digital humanities more accessible and available to historical projects. Many applications and interfaces are user-friendly in the creation of tools, even if highly skilled and specialised labour is required on the back end. An increased commitment to digital humanities by funding bodies and institutions of higher learning has generated a culture of open access and information sharing on a scale unprecedented in humanities research (Roopika, 2019). The result is a welcome blend of interdisciplinary techniques, as dialogues between the sciences, social sciences, and the humanities have spurred new research questions, methods, and designs (Schwandt, 2021). Returning to the ways in which tourism history in particular has shared in these innovations, this paper considers (1) the application of innovative cartographic techniques to produce new representations of space; (2) evolving practices in text analysis, enabled by the creation of digitised, and now often encoded, manuscript and printed material, including distant reading of a large amount of historical material and textual material; and (3) advances in prosopographical and network analyses, using tools to explore aggregate experiences and interactions across space and time. All of these approaches have been enhanced through dialogue with other disciplines and engagement with the digital humanities and have led tourism history to embrace new ways of exploring old sources, processing evidence in creative ways, and inviting new stances towards, and interpretations of, historical tourism. This article begins with a brief overview of some of the basic developments in the field, discusses the research and researchers that form the evidentiary base of this survey, develops an analysis of selected developments in tourism history that have drawn on the insights and methods of digital humanities, and then reflects on some of the challenges posed by the world of digital research in the field.

Digital humanities and tourism history

3There is a wealth of data that can be employed in the creation of digital infrastructures, some of which was compiled and preserved and remains to be discovered because the advent of the digital history enterprise had not been anticipated at the time it was collected and archived (Kelly, interview, 2021), and much of which involves some level of processing and aggregation with other sources. The rendering of printed and manuscript materials, such as travelogues and diaries in digital form and the development of geospatial tools, represented early forays in the field. Now much more extensive “distant” reading of greater volumes of digitised material in broader textual databases—many not designed for the investigation of tourism per se—and expansion of the evidentiary field to include visitor statistics and logs of visitor commentary to specific tourist sites, for instance, have greatly expanded historians’ ability to apply tools to explore network analysis and text mining over a variety of spaces and chronologies (Anderson et al., 2017). Perhaps most promising, textual encoding—a once-laborious task that has become considerably simplified—has enabled scholars to draw printed and manuscript materials into projects through linguistic and other forms of analysis, and to integrate them more fully with other digitised source types, producing, as we shall see, sophisticated analysis of how travellers both responded to and shaped ideas about tourist spaces.

4Projects in several institutional settings, and on many scales, designed in a variety of ways (some, for instance, with crowd-sourcing elements, such as New York Public Library’s landmark “What’s on the Menu? Project”, which includes digitised menus from hotels and steam liners) have enabled scholars of mobility and travel, including tourism, in particular, to develop research around aggregate documentary material. Often, even if the core interest lies outside tourism history—narratives of “exploration”, for instance, or food culture—the tools and frameworks are adaptable to exploring questions in the field. Especially since digitisation of printed materials became a priority for institutions, the production of texts in new formats, first through transcription, then optical character recognition, brought researchers into close contact with special collections libraries and others in information management fields. The result was a high degree of collaboration on research infrastructure development that has characterised the digital humanities: collaborations on tourism history crosses disciplines, especially with tourism historians’ keen interest in spaces and places and their representation, consumption, and production, leading to deep engagement with geographers, literary scholars, information-management specialists, computer scientists, and researchers in the sciences, too.

Research method

5A survey of all projects directly addressing, or having important dimensions of analysis adjacent to, tourism history in North America and the United Kingdom is impossible. Many landmark projects are well documented—especially those with a major public history component. There are, however, many more projects being developed at much smaller scales, sometimes by single or small groups of researchers, and they are not as easy to identify. Moreover, like much of “tourism” history, lines blur between tourism, travel and exploration, amongst other practices and focuses of projects, which can also include such themes as historical commemoration. As a result, identifying discrete “tourism history” projects, or dimensions of them in many digital humanities projects, can be challenging. In examining the development and application of digital humanities tools in North America and the United Kingdom, therefore, we have conducted interviews with leading practitioners in Canada, the US, and the UK, whose projects address historical tourism explicitly, and topics and sources of direct relevance to tourism as a phenomenon. These scholars were engaged in structured interviews to gain insights into: (1) how digital humanities tools contribute to their specific projects, and (2) the potential for the continuing use of digital humanities tools and approaches in tourism history-related scholarship generally. The researchers interviewed in this survey were:

  1. Kirsten “Kit” Belgum, Associate Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and leader of a research project using data mapping and visualisation on a database of 3,000 travel-related titles published in nineteenth-century Britain to explore the results and comparative potential of “distant reading” (Belgum et al., 2018). Keith Handley, who worked as a programmer on the project, was also interviewed;

  2. Giovanna Ceserani, Associate Professor of Classics and, by courtesy, of History, Director of the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, and Director of “The Grand Tour Project” at Stanford University, which has digitised over 5,000 entries in the Dictionary of British and Irish Travelers to Italy, compiled by John Ingamells (1997) from the Brinsley Ford Archive, and developed a tool—the Grand Tour Explorer—for online users to interact with the data in a variety of ways, including downloading for future research (Ceserani et al., 2017; Edelstein et al., 2017; Kelly, 2017; Ceserani, forthcoming 2023);

  3. Ian Gregory, Professor of Digital Humanities at Lancaster University, who has played a pioneering role in the field through such projects as “Mapping the Lakes”, which maps two accounts of travel through the Lakes using GIS representations, and “Spatial Humanities: Texts, GIS, Places, Geospatial Innovations in the Digital Humanities: A Deep Map of the English Lake District”—a major, interdisciplinary project tracing the development of the Lake District over three hundred years. (Cooper and Gregory, 2011);

  4. T. Mills Kelly, Director at the Center for History and New Media, Professor of History at George Mason University, and Director of the “Appalachian Trail Histories” digital public history project exploring the history of one of the most iconic routes in the United States of America;

  5. Margaret Linley, Associate Professor of English at Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Director of the “Lake District Online” project, which has produced a digitised and searchable bibliographic database and full-text archive of SFU’s extensive Lake District Collection of texts, with a view to exploring the global reach of the principles and practices of the picturesque, with its focus being the tourist region of north-west England where it was refined;

  6. Adrian S. Wisnicki, Associate Professor of English, Faculty Fellow of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, Digital Humanities Program Coordinator at the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, USA. Wisnicki also leads the “One More Voice” project, which seeks to recover non-European voices from the European archival colonial record. The “Livingstone Online” project was initiated by Christopher Lawrence, Emeritus Professor, Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London, to fulfil his interest in medicine by compiling letters held by the Royal Geographical Society, as well as collections in the Bodleian and Wellcome libraries (2005-2010). Wisnicki, his successor as director of that project, has underscored that its purpose is to adopt an “anti-expeditionary” perspective that departs from the conventional approach associated with published authorship of such travels, and promotes a deeper engagement with local African sources. Wisnicki also directs the related “Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project”, which is employing advanced scientific techniques to render manuscript material legible (Simpson et al., 2020; Wisnicki et al., 2016).

6Semi-structured interviews with each of these individuals focussed on several core questions, addressing: (1) the origins and purpose of the project(s) in which they were involved; (2) how the project(s) advanced tourism and travel scholarship; (3) what additional research remains to be done in the area; (4) where digital humanities fit into the field generally. These four questions were asked of all interviewees, and their responses were transcribed.

7In the section that follows, we seek to demonstrate how these diverse projects, each with important textual evidentiary bases and spatial elements that have been foregrounded in the application of digital humanities approaches and tools, have shed new light on historical movement over space and time.

Digital humanities applications in travel and tourism history

8The tools developed through digital humanities not only increase aggregate documentary material and enable new theoretical approaches to transform knowledge, they also allow for the application of new technologies to older ones. Indeed, the thread of innovative uses of textual evidence runs through the discussion that follows, whether it involves novel cartographic representations of travel texts, large-scale analysis of a digitised corpus, attempts to de-centre manuscript readings, or using printed bibliographies as the basis to produce new digital tools. In addition to exploring single sources more closely, through machine-enabled linguistic analysis, newer technologies employed in the projects under review, such as GIS cartographic techniques and textual encoding, can be applied to older technologies, such as the printed book and the manuscript, to explore patterns across multiple sources through digitally enabled analysis. These projects highlight tourism history’s connections to geography and literary studies and are exemplified through digital approaches involving mapping, digitisation, and encoding of texts to enable new forms of close and distant reading, network analysis, and public history.

9One of the most fruitful and intensive areas of digital humanities scholarship has been realised through the development and application of cartographic technologies—notably Geographic Information Systems (GIS). There have also been especially great strides in the application of geo-spatial technologies to the study of topographies and “landscapes”, with profound consequences for tourism history, which takes the production and consumption of landscape as primary considerations. “Mapping the Lakes” and the “Deep Map” projects—an extended chronological study of over three hundred years—offer examples of how engagement with, and production of, landscapes, can be illuminated by digital representations using a limited number of texts in the first case, and in the second case, a much larger corpus of material (Gregory and Cooper, 2009; Cooper and Gregory, 2011; Gregory and Donaldson, 2016; Rayson et al., 2017). While there has been a long tradition of creating digitised resources for developing analyses in tourism history (such as the construction of statistical series and critical editing of corpora of sources), the goal of “Mapping the Lakes” was to use textual sources in a GIS cartographic environment. Accounts of journeys by two authors—Thomas Gray and Samuel Taylor Coleridge—in the Lake District in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries supplied the foundation for GIS applications.1 The ambition in the first project was to explore the potential for “Humanities GIS” to move beyond the uses of tabular data in GIS applications and to embrace other textual forms (Gregory and Cooper, 2009). The process of tagging each place name in the text, joining them to a gazetteer, and then mapping them, reveals the practices of movement in which each author was engaged, what level of frequency they were mentioned in the account, and along which routes they engaged with named places (Gregory and Cooper, 2009). Instead of digitally mapping the area of the Lake District using only two accounts as primary material, researchers assembled an expanded corpus over an extended chronology that has enabled a longitudinal analysis of the soundscape of the district to be developed (Chesnokova et al., 2019; Donaldson et al., 2017; Taylor and Gregory, 2022). The result is a research infrastructure than can enable rich comparative analysis across texts and time.

10Digital humanities have involved often highly specialised skills-sets to produce new forms of research in the digital realm, and the expansion of source material beyond the boundaries of the library and archival repository. It is unsurprising that the Lake District, as the preeminent tourist district in nineteenth-century England, and the wellspring for volumes of travel texts, has inspired several projects that allow scholars to explore literature, aesthetic codes, and the literary canon in innovative ways. “Lake District Online” provides a database of digital source material relating to the English Lake District, the original texts of which lie, perhaps surprisingly, in a large collection many thousands of miles away from the places with which they engaged.2 Using these sources, the mobile imaginary of an iconic tourism landscape can be constructed and analysed as an example of the way people produced “natures” and can be extended to explore wider spatialities constructed and encountered during imperial travel in the nineteenth century. Through systematic exploration of the aggregated texts, the material provides examples of how landscape was aestheticized and materially developed—how a privileged and iconic landscape was produced, and, in addition, how a set of aesthetic practices attached to the picturesque, and other codes, which were partly developed in the Lake District, can be better understood (for they assumed global influence and importance in other areas). It, like the other projects, also shows deep connections between book history, tourism history, and digital humanities (Linley, interview, 2021). In producing the material in digital form, optical character recognition, by then a well-established tool, had the benefit of making the source searchable using digital techniques—a method which makes finding information much quicker than could be achieved from traditional forms of research.

11Through digitisation, distant reading becomes more possible. Distant reading refers to the technique of engaging a broader array of sources using computer programming to establish trends and patterns rather than to closely read a particular text (Moretti, 2013). It provides the added benefit of opening a plethora of sources for consultation and incorporation within research (Moretti, 2013). Distant reading offers powerful new counterweights to the “close readings” of a smaller textual corpus, which digital treatments—especially through encoding—have also enabled in new ways. To test hypotheses through distant reading, word frequency can underscore patterns which may already be known (Belgum, 2021). For instance, as Belgum notes in our interview, it is well known in scholarship that Norway became a popular tourism destination in the 1850s, but distant reading supports this conclusion by providing evidence in terms of the frequency of the term “Norway” in travel writing. Distant reading enabled through digital humanities applications, can also make some patterns and aspects of sources more apparent. For example, the point at which places stop becoming part of a journey in a text and become the destination may not be apparent without having word frequency data to indicate as much. As this example suggests, often digital tools do not replace established ways of exploring evidence, but rather reveal, often in stark cartographic representations or in the results of linguistic analysis, patterns and trends that may be less discernible without digital tools. The research design behind distant reading, cartographic representations, and networks that are rendered by digital tools, do not purport to offer a more “objective” approach. They can, however, raise new questions and propose new answers based on the analysis of a broader range of materials, harnessing the powerful of technology.

12“Livingstone Online” offers a compelling example of how the evidentiary base to explore intercultural contact in imperial contexts, long seen as constrained by an apparent dearth of sources offering a non-European perspective, can be creatively expanded to allow more practitioners to critically engage with manuscript and other textual material. “Livingstone Online” hosts thousands of pages of high-resolution images and transcribed and annotated texts, as well as scholarship that has emerged from the project. Researchers can adopt and apply perspectives such as critical race theory and post-colonialism. They do this, in part, by escaping European bibliographic systems that privilege the European author, thus making it possible to explore a broader range of unacknowledged contributors to a text through the incorporation of material such as field notebooks, in which the role of local actors in supplying and shaping Livingston’s knowledge about places is much more conspicuous—thus identifying and crediting critical collaborators in knowledge production (Wisnicki, interview, 2021; Wisnicki, 2019). This has become possible through the analysis of documentary material that recounts the first-hand observations of “explorers” and others, and can foreground the ways knowledge production was mediated on the ground, shaped by myriad actors and intercultural encounters (Wisnicki, 2019). These features are only apparent when the original textual material is incorporated within an analysis of how it was handled, redacted, and substantially changed as it migrated from the field to published form (Simpson et al., 2020). Wisnicki has been able to use the travel narrative to “de-centre” African history through engagement with original manuscript accounts that were produced in markedly different contexts and contained different information from when they appeared in published form. This means approaching the material from a non-biographical approach, which was “anti-expeditionary” in its emphasis on local contexts, rather than engaging with the whole of Africa. This imperative has been amplified and expanded in scope with the “One More Voice” project—another effort to recover non-European voices from the European colonial archival record.3 Like distant reading, this application of digital tools allows for new engagements with textual materials, as well as new interpretations and understandings of the context of their production. As with the other projects discussed here, the processes and protocols of “Livingstone Online” have been meticulously documented by the research team.

13The “Livingstone Online” case also demonstrates the extent to which the application of new technologies can traverse whole fields of knowledge—in this case in, an effort to render manuscript material eligible through the use of sophisticated scientific tools. During a trip to a village in the Congo. In an archive in Scotland, Adrian Wisnicki found the original pages of a Livingstone manuscript travel diary that would add considerably to the Livingstone corpus and, critically, provide researchers with an original manuscript resource beyond the printed and annotated diaries which had become the foundations of scholarship (Wisnicki et al., 2016). Although the manuscript was in poor condition, consultation with scientists provided the potential to apply spectral imaging technology to the manuscript—a process which applies discrete wavelengths of light to an artifact to render it more legible (Wisnicki et al., 2016). In these cases, a variety of digital humanities techniques have offered powerful tools for textual analysis, and a broader, theoretically informed approach to the digital sources, notably local, manuscript materials. This approach to these sources has advanced critical perspectives on post-colonialism. The final use of digital humanities explored in this section involves digital collective biography and network analysis and the building of new tools and platforms to interrogate travel from a prosopographical perspective in “The Grand Tour Project”. It takes as its source base a printed text—the Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy compiled by John Ingamells. In its original form, the dictionary is structured at the level of the individual traveller (Ingamells, 1997). Stanford University has made using the work simpler and more accessible by creating "The Grand Tour Project”—an infrastructure for exploring travellers and travel practices that are often understood to be forerunners of “modern” tourism. Entries recorded in Ingamells’s Dictionary have been digitized, organized, and subsequently visualized on an interactive map, illustrating networks (Ceserani, interview, 2021).4 This digitization and datafication has also recovered the Dictionary’s “hidden figures”, that is, travellers previous subsumed in other travellers’ entries. This project thus adds more than a thousand new travellers to Ingamells’ prosopography, of which more than 600 are women and many of which are non-elite travellers, ranging from servants to children and other less recorded people. A user-friendly interface—the Grand Tour Explorer—allows researchers to search and browse, focusing on individual travelers while also probing aggregates by way of various dimensions and characteristics at scale. But the most significant benefit of this transformation lies not so much in the total mass of the data it makes available, but in its density, in the systematic nature of the categories that organize the data, and in the clarity about what its boundaries and limits are—what it lets us see, as if for the first time, as well as what it remains stubbornly uncertain about. Criss-crossing between datasets helps by generating new questions and interpretations, but context—that sticky historiographical concept—remains the key to approaching this information. The user-friendliness of the platform—which will be published in open access with the title A World Made by Travel: The Digital Grand Tour in 2023 in the Stanford University Press Digital Series—is an asset that functions as an ambassadorial tool to increase scholarship on tourism history and generate tourism scholarship through the production of a research infrastructure (Ceserani, interview, 2021). A critical resource for the study of travel networks and nodes, and for exploring the aggregate as well as the individual profile of travellers and subsets of travellers, this publication will offer an innovative tool for analysing travel history in a critical period in tourism’s pre-history.

14Like “The Grand Tour Project”, “Appalachian Trail Histories” emphasises its user-interface and, from its very origins, has been conceived of as a public history endeavour as well as a teaching enterprise.5 Tools and platforms built for a public audience, whether apps or exhibits featuring student research such as this one, require different considerations than those for which there is no public-facing element. Kelly (interview, 2021) points to the tremendous, untapped potential for data to be drawn into this project, for instance, from various government agencies and departments, from national park visitor numbers to gas prices. These could be used to develop a compelling analysis of relationships between the emergence of car culture, the emergence of road infrastructures that include “scenic highways”—distinctive tourist routes—, gas prices, and visitor numbers at specific places, in addition to the incorporation of images into databases and the use of image analysis to advance interpretations of landscape interventions. Telling these stories in a compelling way as part of public history adds a new dimension to the digital humanities enterprise—one that extends computational analysis to include the evaluation of appropriate platforms, deliberations over standards, such as accessibility (and in the case of teaching, training in tagging, metadata standards, and other ways material is rendered searchable). Digital humanities in the realm of public history also offer tantalising potential for innovation—the development of allied apps, for instance. Here the issue of the “back end” and “front end” of digital projects in tourism history poses questions as to end-use: are the data intended to be largely “static” (an online exhibit curated by students, who learn about such concepts and practices as core metadata schema), or are they intended to offer manipulable datasets—and if so, for which population of users?

15Digital tools and platforms have enabled us to ask new questions through mapping, through new forms of close and distant reading, which can de-centre long-held beliefs about the primacy of the identified author, through the examination of networks which are enabled by digitised nominal databases, and in terms of public history. All historians recognise that the questions they ask are shaped by the nature and extent of the sources they use, and digital historians acknowledge this, too: digital humanities approaches offer powerful new tools to ask important new questions of sources, align them with other sources, and “read them” in new ways, but research design, like the sources themselves, is shaped by cultural, social, and intellectual environment. To say nothing of differential resource allocation, which is often labour-, time- and infrastructure-intensive research, privileges some research environments, and some questions, over others. In the section that follows we sketch out, in a very preliminary way, some of the questions that attend the digital humanities turn in tourism history.

Digital tourism histories: potentials and limitations

16While there is considerable enthusiasm and demonstrated potential of these tools and technologies to generate new questions and enable new approaches, there are still some unresolved implications of digital humanities scholarship—even if scholars such as Taylor and Gregory (2022) have clearly demonstrated that any putative binary between the digital and the humanistic is too simply asserted. Indeed, the sensitivity with which digital humanities has been mobilised in history and in tourism history provides a convincing response to any claims that digital humanists are naïve positivists who do not appreciate the constructedness of the sources they use, the tools they produce, or the questions they pose and seek to answer. While much focus has been placed on digitising printed or manuscript records, we are bounded by them and their limitations. For instance, in Ingamell’s Dictionary, one needs to be conscious of how to expand the source base to account for other concerns, such as non-Italian experiences or non-elite voices (Ingamells, 1997)—digitization and pointed computational approaches can be used to reveal and probe the limitations of the sources, as in The Grand Tour Project’s recovery of hundreds of Italians among the mentioned names and of more than a thousand “hidden figures” consisting mostly of women and non-elites travellers, but ultimately the archives hold many of the answers. This is a broader concept that it is embedded in historical study, but the limitations of sources in a digital medium need to be considered. Distant reading is also shaped by the quality of the source material. Although it is an excellent tool to develop new research, there needs to be caution in database consultation and determining the accuracy of a source will continue to be essential.

17At the same time as digital humanities scholarship has offered tourism historians avenues for cooperation and collaboration—digital humanities is, as this article has emphasised inherently collaborative and interdisciplinary—and for deeper engagement across disciplines and fields, this section outlines some ongoing tensions between the aspirations of digital humanities and limitations inherent in institutional support and other issues: pervasive and uneven resource constraints; some of the limits of mapping techniques; the issues related to original source materials which resist some research projects such as comparative research; barriers to skills acquisition; and the continuing importance of understanding the material qualities of sources that have been “processed” through various digital humanities applications. Continuous reflection on research design in the digital humanities is essential to consider format migration, universal protocols and standards, and interoperability of platforms.

18The differential level of support for inter-institutional collaboration, and the timeframes for research infrastructure development, are factors which impact the viability of adopting digital humanities approaches in research. To achieve substantial results, there needs to be collaboration in terms of funding support—often over timeframes that do not meet conventional funding programmes. Furthermore, organization and planning the timeframe in which research will be completed is essential for implementing digital techniques in the most effective way—with appropriate budgeting for many digital research infrastructures that have no discrete “end date”. While many institutions and funding bodies have developed funding envelopes that reflect the cost of digital techniques in scholarship, there is still a lack of uniform funding across the historical scholarship sponsorship. Ideally, institutions should strive to reflect the added cost of digital techniques in their funding packages, specifically for those combining traditional historiographical techniques with those developed in the digital humanities.

19Visual techniques in the digital humanities, such as mapping, need to have their own consideration when consulting digital tools. In addition to visuals, mapping specifically, at least in a historical travel context, is highly dependent on named places and descriptions. While place names and descriptions may have at one time been satisfactory in terms of accuracy, visual techniques in the digital humanities demand more precise, quantitative knowledge that has historically been unnecessary. In short, the digital cartographic endeavour is only possible when there is correspondence between “places” in texts and known coordinates. We are constrained in our ability to systematically map texts with reference to gazetteers by the way writers handle “places” in texts. A source may refer to something as “a mountain over there”, which may be pregnant with meaning in a textual account of travel; it will not, however, provide precise coordinates which are an essential component of GIS mapping technologies (Gregory, interview, 2021).

20A major benefit in the use of digital techniques is their ability to quantify and present information in a user-friendly way (though, as Handley [interview] points out, there are many digital humanities projects, especially funded on a small scale, that do not have public user interfaces). This holds out hope for even wider accessibility, but with some caveats. For instance, software such as gaming engines can supply a familiar, user-friendly platform to present data where only a basic level of background understanding is necessary to engage with the material (Gregory, interview, 2021). However, while the benefit of this accessibility is obvious, the risk of over-simplifying information in favour of widening accessibility is an obstacle scholars need to be aware of. There needs to be a balance in terms of accessibility and maintaining a degree of accuracy. It is important that when using digital techniques, specifically those relating to visuals, traditional forms of scholarship which favour accuracy are consulted and utilized.

21While having a larger digital documentary base can bring opportunity for scholarship, there are other drawbacks, too. For instance, the national contexts within which documentary bases for digital scholarship are generated make comparative work challenging—an important consideration in a field such as tourism history, in which crossing borders inheres in many tourist practices. It is important to consider a variety of material from an array of sources rather than text that is connected through nationalistic pattern (Belgum, interview, 2021). Traditionally, research has relied on the close reading of material published by select famous authors who are often connected to a national publishing culture. However, digital techniques, such as “distant” reading, favour a much larger documentary base which can transcend and indeed illuminate these national cultures and how they shape published works—this being perhaps most evident when writers from different backgrounds narrate the same “place”. While this new scholarship will certainly generate questions and research, there is the drawback that comparative work will be more difficult due to the different documentary bases with which researchers work, requiring sensitivity to the specific contexts within which sub-sets of material were created. This disadvantage may be most challenging during the initial adoption of digital techniques as comparative research will be more accessible with more research being generated using a wider documentary base.

22While digitization may make a source accessible, it cannot fully and faithfully replicate its materiality. For instance, the reading of digital documents is entirely reliant on the quality of the photographs or scans uploaded by the digitizer. Lower quality images, or those yet to go through optical character recognition, can make research time consuming and, in some cases, unviable. Physical textual material offers advantages in some research—although it should be noted that as digitization techniques expand, it is expected that the quality of the documentary base will continue to grow. Furthermore, there is potential for digital techniques to advance to the point where three-dimensional rendering of texts is accessible; as of now, the majority of databases provide digital material on a two-dimensional plane, which shapes and limits some questions that can be explored. As this base continues to expand and technology continues to improve, one can be cautiously optimistic that the issue of digital inaccessibly will be slowly mitigated.

23As the reliance on digital tools such as distant reading increases, there is perennial concern about technical skills for the non-conversant, beyond some “demystification” which attends developing areas that are deeply interdisciplinary in nature, and whether the field risks becoming the domain only of those who are proficient in computer-science-related skills. It is important that traditional skills relating to historiographical research are not eradicated due to reliance on digital techniques. There needs to continue to be space for, and emphasis on, the capacity for digital humanities to be employed for more than “big data” endeavours. Traditional techniques such as close reading are still strong tools which should not be eradicated by overreliance on digital methods. Institutions should be responsible for teaching students how to ensure that analytic tools and techniques do not necessarily replace one another. Rather, they can prioritize teaching at what points traditional and digital techniques can be best utilized—always within a framework that emphasises the extent to which applications and tools associated with the digital humanities are constructed within specific cultural, social, and intellectual environments. The acknowledgement amongst digital humanities scholars that their work involves specific skills-acquisition and high levels of reflexiveness, points to a deep understanding that the tools and interpretations produced through digital humanities endeavours still rely on evidence, techniques, and ultimately, representations of knowledge—maps, for instance—that are culturally contingent. There will always be research questions that are better suited to be analyzed using traditional techniques. Digital techniques merely offer the opportunity to answer new questions rather than replace historiographical thought.


24In surveying advances in digital humanities scholarship that introduce important dimensions of, and implications for, tourism history, it becomes clear that there has been a considerable broadening of interest in the application of these tools and technologies, and a concomitant expansion of the population of scholars with training in them. Tourism history has seen tangible advancements through digital humanities approaches, which have been used to develop new research questions and designs centred on mapping, digitisation and encoding of texts, network analysis, and public history. Whether on a small or larger scale, there has been a welcome commitment to meticulous documentation of digital humanities projects—as evidenced by the case studies discussed here. Furthermore, there is a possibility, despite some concerns about digital humanities appearing impenetrable, that they can have a welcome effect on expanding the field of practitioners of tourism history. Early-career scholars bring native understanding of technology to digitalisation and are less strictly self-identified as “digital humanities scholars”. Some projects are good, public-history-oriented “ambassadorial tools”, while others are more embedded within advanced research practices. Perhaps this is key to the more general acceptance of digital humanities beyond the academe: to what extent is it socially acknowledged as a valued field for the public at large? Public history, discussed here, may offer one answer to that question. Answering this question is a task that academe in general will have to answer in the coming years as digital approaches become more embedded in viable research. Finally, the projects surveyed here, like most others being developed in predominantly Anglophone environments, have an intrinsic advantage of sharing both the prevailing language of the internet and of the international academe; for them, international collaboration and comparative work offers the welcome prospect of moving into new linguistic realms and building durable partnerships at the transnational level.

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Carrie Anderson, Giovanna Ceserani, Christopher Donaldson, Ian N. Gregory, Melanie Hall, Adam T. Rosenbaum and Joanna E. Taylor, “Digital humanities and tourism history”, Journal of Tourism History, vol. 9, no 2-3, p. 246-269, 2017.

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Keith Handley, interview with Kevin James, November 16, 2021.

T. Mills Kelly, interview with Kevin James, November 8, 2021.

Margaret Linley, interview with Kevin James, November 4, 2021.

Adrian S. Wisnicki, interview with Kevin James, November 4, 2021.

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1 Ian Gregory, dir., “Mapping the Lakes: A Literary GIS”: [accessed in January 2023]

2 Margaret Linley, dir., “Lake District Online”: [accessed in December 2023]

3 Adrian Wisnicki, dir., “Livingstone Online: Illuminating Imperial Exploration”: [accessed in December 2023]

4 Giovanna Ceserani, dir., “The Grand Tour Project”, Stanford University: [accessed in January 2023]

5 T. Mills Kelly, dir., “Appalachian Trail Histories”, George Mason University: [accessed in January 2023]

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Référence électronique

Kevin James et Gavin Hughes, « Exploring explorers, travellers, and tourists: digital humanities approaches in North America and the United Kingdom »Mondes du Tourisme [En ligne], 24 | 2023, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2023, consulté le 28 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Kevin James

Professor, Department of History and Centre for Scottish studies, University of Guelph (Canada)

Gavin Hughes

MA Student, Department of History and Centre for Scottish studies, University of Guelph (Canada)

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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