Making “Foreign” Turn into “Home”: Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Travel to Central America

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 9:40 AM
Forum Room (Omni Shoreham)
Heather J. Abdelnur, Augusta State University
In a time of transition from the colonial Kingdom of Guatemala, to becoming the United Provinces of Central America, and ultimately splintering into what Emeritus Professor R. Lee Woodward, Jr. has termed “a nation divided”, the various nations of modern day Central America opened their ports and allowed entry of English-speaking Americans and British citizens into their midst. Coming as predominantly a group of upper echelon white males, with occupations ranging from merchants, to diplomats, to scientists and budding archaeologists, these 19th century travelers traveled coastlines and interiors carrying diplomatic correspondence, looking for new personal connections for trade, conducting forays for scientific specimens of plant and animal life, and encountering scenes of beauty and perceived misery along the way. Sometimes, albeit rarely, their women and children accompanied them as travel companions or assistants.

This paper will present a glimpse into the synthesized history of 19th century Central America through the contemporary writings, sketchings, and photographs of these foreign travelers. What commonalities are shared in the descriptive terminology of people, place, and event? Where are their differences and, if there are alternative views, is it a matter of the gender or occupation of the writer, or some other reason? How do those travelers, of whom some spend months to years in Central America, recreate the familiar in an unfamiliar location? Utilizing a variety of primary source materials from Tulane University’s Latin American Library in the form of the travel accounts and other 19th century writings, photographs, illustrations, and other evidence of material culture, this paper will demonstrate the continued usefulness of travel account literature and the possibilities for finding detailed evidence of marginalized peoples and peripheral spaces in the lines of the intended and unintended writings of foreign travelers.