On the road

Traveling, for many of us, evokes images of exotic shores, distant lands or time away from work, home and even the kids. It may also conjure up thoughts of diaries or travel writing, globalization and nomads, Ulysses’ great journey or ecotourism.

This year Penn and the greater community will spend a year thinking, discussing and writing about travel in the 2006-7 Penn Humanities Forum.

“Travel has a unique opportunity for educating a person. You get educational value from traveling that you can’t get anywhere else,” says Karen Detlefsen, assistant professor of philosophy in the School of Arts and Sciences and this year’s topic director. “If it’s doing its job, it will transform one’s outlook on the world.”

The Forum includes talks and events throughout the academic year—by a renowned travel writer, a Washington Post correspondent, a folklorist and a human rights and journalism professor.

Throughout the year, undergraduate and faculty research fellows will study and the theme of travel.

Other cultural events will coincide with and compliment the Forum talks, including a film series from the Cinema Studies Department, “Cinematic Travels,” which includes screenings of work by Krzysztof Kieslowski, Spike Lee and Lars von Trier; and a spring exhibit from the Rare Books Room in the Penn Library titled, “Travellers’ Tales and Other Lies.”

Being able to synthesize such a huge topic took years. Detlefsen suggested travel as a Forum topic just a couple months after arriving at Penn in 2001, and when her topic was selected, met with Forum Director Wendy Steiner and English Professor Peter Stallybrass to come up with a list of speakers. Members of the Humanities Forum Faculty Board suggested themes and Detlefsen solicited ideas on the topic from colleagues around the University.

There were “pages and pages” of areas they could cover, she says. “It was a case of choosing 12 events that would best capture the richness of the topic.”

She says that it began in her mind as a series of six or seven questions on the topic of travel, both in detail, and as abstract, metaphorical ideas, including traveling in one’s mind and travel as education.

“The spirit of those questions carries through to the roster of speakers that we have now,” says Detlefsen.

For more information on past topics and upcoming events in the series, go to: http://humanities.sas.upenn.edu/.

Originally published on September 7, 2006.

Originally published on September 21, 2006