Travel Texts and Moving Cultures

Anita Perkins has been an active member of the Foundation's Leadership Network since joining in 2008. She has written stories for the website and was a member of the Advisory Board from 2010-2012. More recently, she has completed her PhD and her first book Travel Texts and Moving Cultures.

Anita Perkins

Asia New Zealand Foundation's Masina Taulapapa sat down with Anita to discuss her book and the writing process

What is the book you’ve written about?

Basically, I’m trying to see what some of the broader ideas about what increased mobility over time means to people. One of the things in particular I was asking about in the book was the contribution that writers and film makers can make as a critical reflection of what’s going on at a certain point in time.

What I found is that over time you start off with this fixed idea of one person going home – the idea of Homer’s Odyssey, where home is a fixed place and travel is a thing of movement just for the purpose of getting to a fixed home.

Later on between 1770-1830, travel becomes a thing for enlightenment. It can open up your mind and you can get new ideas about culture that you wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t gone out “into the field”, so to speak. There’s the idea of becoming more educated through travel – the “Grand Tour” – and returning to the place you’re from, but with a bit of social ascension.

At the same time though, some of these writers were exploring the negative elements of travelling as well: becoming addicted to travel, using travel to run away from your problems, what travel can do to ruin relationships or senses of place.

Now, in the modern period, travel has become elevated even more in that mobility is almost seen as a human right; so, I also look at the question of whether we’ve gone too far – how does travel have an impact on people’s experiences, sense of identity, who they are, environmental impacts.

Why did you want to write this book?

When you write your PhD, you only have so many opportunities to get your work out there, and one of my supervisors, Tim Megan, said that if I was ever interested in turning my thesis into a book for the series he edits, he could help.

So, partly it was seizing the opportunity that was in front of me, and partly I want to keep the door open to a future career in academia. It’s a requirement that you have publications, so getting a book under a relatively reputable publisher is a way to do that. Also, it’s just something to cross off the bucket list.

What was the writing process like?

The process of turning a thesis into a book is incredibly time consuming. You need to cut out chapters and change the style so it’s appropriate for a book, and then go through and check that everything makes sense, particularly cross-referencing if you’ve taken something out and then made reference to it later.

What most surprised you about writing this book?

I think just that it was a completely new experience. The publishers Peter Lang Oxford are in England, and my editors were in Australia, and working between the three time frames and never getting to meet any one in person was more difficult than I had originally expected.

What was also unexpected was how many former friends and colleagues came out of the woodwork and reconnected after hearing about the book – it was really cool that people who I hadn’t been in touch with for a while got back in contact to say congratulations.

What’s next? Where to from here?

In the coming months, I’m taking up opportunities to present on my research and book. One is on eScoSci – an online platform connecting New Zealand social scientists and their ideas – where myself and two others are doing a series of three presentations over a few weeks. There’s a conference in February I’ll present at, and a conference in the UK in April that I’m keen to get to. Hopefully, some of these conferences will bring up some ideas for more publications, but in the next while it’s just about trying to promote the book, do a few seminars and see what the reaction is.