Contact Us
Emily Balch Seminar Program
Gail Hemmeter, Director
English House
101 North Merion Ave
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-2899

Phone: (610) 526-5306
Fax: (610) 526-7477
The Balch Seminars

Travel Tales and Understanding

This seminar covers a varied group of readings, all involving travel, exposure to new cultures, and the kinds of learning that come with exposure to unfamiliar and often thought-provoking values. Some readings are set in everyday contexts, while others are more unusual: captivity narratives, imaginary travels, a temptation narrative, and even a descent into madness. This rich reading fare guarantees lively class discussions, often centering on the social and personal values of different cultures; the readings also provide many writing opportunities—chances to look into new values or conflicts among values on paper. This is a seminar without “right answers.” It prizes ongoing explorations above arrival at a final destination.

photo of Peter Briggs

Professor of English

"When we travel to a new place, we open our eyes wide to the experience. Through the readings in this seminar, students travel to other cultures and experience life from other perspectives. For example, reading side-by-side memoirs of a 17th-century Massachusetts woman who lived with Native Americans and a Native American woman who attended a school run by white missionaries gets students thinking about values, customs, the value of education, and the roles of women.

“Through this seminar, students learn to read critically, and, with each paper they write, they take the next step in the infinite task of becoming good writers. Whether or not they realize it, they are starting a journey: going to college, living with new people, and being exposed to larger ideas and academic perspectives than those they were exposed to in high school. We also give them more independence to choose the topics of their papers, and they find that both liberating and challenging.

Peter Briggs has written extensively about 18th-century British writers, philosophers, commercial advertising, and celebrity culture, and he is a contributing editor to a journal of 18th-century literary criticism and bibliography. He also writes and teaches about the comparative perspectives featured in travel literature and the ways in which they promote cross-cultural understanding. Peter earned a Ph.D. at Yale University and joined the College in 1974

“I took ‘Travel Tales and Understanding’ because I like personal stories of journeys. The reading list covered literature from the 1600s to the 1990s, and I enjoyed all of the readings—I found them interesting and compelling.

“In high school, I didn’t like to talk or share my opinions in class. But in this seminar, I was so comfortable and enjoyed the readings so much that I probably talked more than anyone else in class! It was exciting to hear others talk about their ideas, and then to pick up on something I hadn’t thought about and build on it.

“Because we had to write papers frequently in the seminar, my writing got better and better. Professor Briggs read my papers closely and gave me very constructive comments. He helped me to recognize when I needed to develop my ideas more deeply. This has helped me in my other courses, too.

photo of Helen Kunda “I came to Bryn Mawr thinking I would major in art history, but after taking ‘Travel Tales and Understanding,’ I am almost certain that I will be an English major. It has been my favorite course so far.”

prospective English major