The best books on early English travel writing

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Professor of English at the University of Sussex. I have worked on a wide range of subjects over the years, mainly about the English Renaissance. I have a long-standing interest in travel and colonial writing, the ways in which the English interacted with other peoples and other places, which started with my interest in Ireland where I studied and which was the subject of my early books. I have broadened my perspective as I have read more on the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia, over the years and am committed to uncovering the truth of the uncomfortable, challenging, and fascinating history of the early British Empire.


I wrote...

Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels: Travel and Colonial Writing in English, 1550-1630: An Anthology

By Andrew Hadfield (editor), Matthew Dimmock (editor),

Book cover of Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels: Travel and Colonial Writing in English, 1550-1630: An Anthology

What is my book about?

The most comprehensive and wide-ranging anthology of English travel writing in the Renaissance, covering work by English travelers in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, the South Seas, and the North. The anthology shows how the English understood the world on the eve of imperial expansion, from fascinated curiosity to hostile racism, as they tried to make sense of a globe they wanted to explore, survey, and control. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492-1797

Andrew Hadfield Why did I love this book?

A brilliant and incisive reading of European-Caribbean relations from the first encounters on Christopher Columbus’s voyages.

Peter Hulme shows how central the Caribbean was to English and European thinking about the world and how the region defined English approaches to the rest of the world in the first age of the British Empire.

By Peter Hulme,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Colonial Encounters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Europe encountered America in 1492, a meeting of cultures graphically described in the log-book kept by Christopher Columbus. His stories of peaceful savages and cruel "cannibals" have formed the matrix for all subsequent descriptions of that native Caribbean society. The encounter itself has obsesssed colonialist writing. It reappears in the early 17th century in the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, and on the Jacobean stage in the figures of Prospero and Caliban. In the 18th century, over two hundred years after the European discovery of the Caribbean, the idea of a pristine encounter still permeated European literature through Robinson…


Book cover of Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World

Andrew Hadfield Why did I love this book?

This book contains a series of inspired readings that show how the newly discovered American continent transformed English/European notions of what it was to be human in an age dominated by religion.

The peoples found in America generated fear, hatred, confusion, but, most of all, wonder at the possibilities of human life, challenging the ways in which Europeans had habitually thought.

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marvelous Possessions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A masterwork of history and cultural studies, Marvelous Possessions is a brilliant meditation on the interconnected ways in which Europeans of the Age of Discovery represented non-European peoples and took possession of their lands, particularly in the New World. In a series of innovative readings of travel narratives, judicial documents, and official reports, Stephen Greenblatt shows that the experience of the marvelous, central to both art and philosophy, was manipulated by Columbus and others in the service of colonial appropriation. Much more than simply a collection of the odd and exotic, Marvelous Possessions is both a highly original extension of…


Book cover of Madoc: The Making of a Myth

Andrew Hadfield Why did I love this book?

The Madoc legend claimed that a Welsh prince discovered America long before Columbus, the traces remaining in a few words and through some later accounts.

The Welsh historian Gwyn Williams shows how the myth was used to establish racist genealogies through the myth of ‘white Indians’, detailing how dangerous and offensive an apparently confused and confusing legend could be. A magnificent piece of hard-headed historical analysis.

By Gwyn A. Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Madoc as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This examination of the story of Madoc, the Welsh prince alleged to have sailed to America centuries before Columbus, is a work of historical detection which not only tracks down strange stories and beliefs to their factual origins, but shows how myth can actually shape history. Readership: all those interested in Wales, Welsh history, overseas colonization, especially of America


Book cover of Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery

Andrew Hadfield Why did I love this book?

A comprehensive and helpful survey of English attitudes to the peoples from the Ottoman Empire and North Africa, written in straightforward English with a host of helpful quotations and historical analyses.

A reliable guide to English encounters with peoples from the southern Mediterranean, as they sought to dominate what was then the most strategically important area of the world.

By Nabil Matar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the early modern period, hundreds of Turks and Moors traded in English and Welsh ports, dazzled English society with exotic cuisine and Arabian horses, and worked small jobs in London, while the "Barbary Corsairs" raided coastal towns and, if captured, lingered in Plymouth jails or stood trial in Southampton courtrooms. In turn, Britons fought in Muslim armies, traded and settled in Moroccan or Tunisian harbor towns, joined the international community of pirates in Mediterranean and Atlantic outposts, served in Algerian households and ships, and endured captivity from Salee to Alexandria and from Fez to Mocha. In Turks, Moors, and…


Book cover of Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference

Andrew Hadfield Why did I love this book?

A careful, meticulous, and thoughtful analysis of the ways in which the opening up of the world for English audiences left its mark on the work of the most celebrated author of the period.

Gillies shows how Shakespeare thought about the key areas of the world, in passing as well as when writing directly about specific regions, notably, southern Europe, the Americas, the Mediterranean, France, Italy, and elsewhere.

By John Gillies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this engaging book, John Gillies explores Shakespeare's geographic imagination, and discovers an intimate relationship between Renaissance geography and theatre, arising from their shared dependence on the opposing impulses of taboo-laden closure and hubristic expansiveness. Dr Gillies shows that Shakespeare's images of the exotic, the 'barbarous, outlandish or strange', are grounded in concrete historical fact: to be marginalised was not just a matter of social status, but of belonging, quite literally, to the margins of contemporary maps. Through an examination of the icons and emblems of contemporary cartography, Dr Gillies challenges the map-makers' overt intentions, and the attitudes and assumptions…


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Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


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