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travel literature

As the new world opened up and exotic specimens and curiosities were brought back from faraway lands a new thirst for knowledge of travellers' adventures arose. This was met in large part by the new genre of travel literature.

The first wave of travel literature in the century following Columbus was full of heroic tales of crusades, conquests and pilgrimages. Yet as the veracity of these tales began to be questioned and as the value to natural philosophy of the newly discovered phenomena began to be appreciated, a different style of travel narrative emerged. This was more oriented to the natural historian and natural philosopher and often included 'true reports' and 'authentic narratives and histories'.

Travel literature soon became an important source of knowledge in natural philosophy. The reading of such literature was promoted by Francis Bacon who realised their importance as sources of facts for the construction of natural histories. It was these histories that, in Bacon's view, constituted the basis of natural philosophy. Bacon's advice and example was taken up by many leading natural philosophers including Boyle and Locke. In fact, travel literature became so integrated with the interests of natural philosophers that by the mid-seventeenth century it really became continuous with natural philosophy itself. This is evidenced in the extensive travel reports that appear in the journal of the Royal Society, the Philosophical Transactions.

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