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Travel and Exploration

Travel accounts and narratives; records of scientific expeditions; regional descriptions

Rare Books Online Exhibits Publications External Resources Related Content

Whether driven by curiosity about the world or commercial, scholarly, and political interests, travel was a fundamental means of gathering and recording geographical and historical information disseminated through the medium of the printing press. The materials in Dumbarton Oaks collection—with their emphasis on the Middle East and Latin America and the broader trajectories of botanical exploration—reveal the complex dynamics of this combined enquiry into space and time. Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, such as the adventures of the Roman nobleman Pietro della Valle, gave rise to a systematic study of the sites of Greek and Roman antiquity, as illustrated by the early archeological survey of Balbec, in which travel notes provided an essential complement to pictorial records.

In the case of the Americas, voyages of discovery brought conquest and colonization, with scientific expeditions playing an active role among the strategies of territorial control, subjugation, and exploitation. Descriptions of the geography and natural resources of the New World often included details of the appearance and customs of the indigenous peoples or references to ancient monuments, as in Lionel Wafer’s book on the Isthmus of Panama or the records of Antonio de Ulloa’s journey through the Viceroyalty of Peru.

In the context of garden and landscape scholarship, travel remained an indispensable means of advancing and communicating botanical knowledge, even in the case of failed missions such as the royal Danish 1761–67 expedition to the Arabian Peninsula. Yet, it could also serve as an assertion of authority, as with the Qianlong emperor’s inspection tour through the southern provinces of China, or as part of professional formation, as testifies the report on a visit to England by the German gardener Hans Jancke.


Searching for Materials in HOLLIS​

In addition to select digitized titles, the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection holds numerous printed materials, manuscripts, and original artwork related to travel and exploration. To quickly locate items in HOLLIS, use the “Advanced Search” feature to specify material subject, language, date range, or other criteria. Subjects relevant to travel and exploration include the following:

America -- Discovery and exploration

Middle East -- Description and travel

Scientific expeditions

Turkey -- Description and travel

South America -- Description and travel

Voyages and travels


Digitized Rare Books

Online Exhibits

Explore highlights from the collection related to travel and exploration below, or view all online exhibits.


Discover featured titles related to travel and exploration below, or search all titles from Dumbarton Oaks Publications.

External Resources

The Expeditions and Discoveries exhibition on Harvard Digital Collections includes maps, photos, and published materials, as well as manuscript materials such as field notes and letters, from selected Harvard University-sponsored expeditions undertaken between 1626 and 1953.

Exploring the Early Americas features selections from the more than 3,000 rare maps, documents, paintings, prints, and artifacts that make up the Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress. It provides insight into indigenous cultures, the drama of the encounters between Native Americans and European explorers and settlers, and the pivotal changes caused by the meeting of the American and European worlds.

The Library of Congress also has a digital collection of materials related to Travels and Voyages.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the world’s largest open-access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. As part of a global “biodiversity community,” BHL’s worldwide consortium of natural history and botanical libraries works to digitize and make freely available the natural history literature held in their collections.​

The Heidelberg University Library has digitized several hundred printed and manuscript travel accounts from the sixteenth to the late nineteenth century. This collection is primarily composed of reports of journeys through the Mediterranean and the Near East, particularly pilgrimages to the Holy Land. is a database of late medieval and early modern European travel accounts. The site provides digitized editions and research literature on approximately 375 different travels and pilgrimages. Users can search for travel accounts by the places that were visited or by traveller name, and each journey is represented with a Google Maps depiction. The site also includes a comprehensive bibliography. 

The Trans-Atlantic and Intra-American slave trade databases, both hosted on SlaveVoyages, are the culmination of decades of effort to collect archival data on slave-trading voyages from unpublished sources and to code them into a machine-readable format. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database now comprises 36,000 individual slaving expeditions between 1514 and 1866, and the Intra-American Slave Trade Database contains information on approximately 10,000 slave voyages within the Americas. The website provides full interactive capability to analyze the data and report results in the form of statistical tables, graphs, maps, and timelines. Additional resources include an image gallery, lesson plans, and accompanying essays contributed by scholars of the slave trade.

The Latin American Travelogues project is a digital collection of Latin America travel accounts written in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. The site provides bibliographies of travel accounts grouped by country or geographic region with links to digital facsimiles. The selected works are also linked to critical essays produced by undergraduate students enrolled in Latin American history courses at Brown University.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas has digitized a selection of their materials related to Mediterranean travel and trade between 1300 and 1800. The digital collection is available through Luna.


Related Collection Strengths

Learn more about other collection strengths that may contain materials of interest to this research topic, or view all collection strengths.