The American Grand Tour: Complexities of Cosmopolitanism

Grants and Contracts Details


This curricular project is an exploration of an idea—the Grand Tour—through creative inquiry and discussion of sociological practices of travel and continuing education. This idea is the basis of a new faculty-led travel course that studies the history of Americans traveling to Europe; what has it meant in the past and what does it mean today to follow the path of the Grand Tour through Europe as an ideal and a real itinerary in the pursuit of a cosmopolitan education? Framed as a decolonizing project, students prepare for travel by reading a selection of Black Travel Writing and alternative histories of Black Americans traveling abroad and their complicated relationships with white allies. Igiaba Scego's (2022) novel, The Color Line, serves as a guidebook for the course in concert with the pedagogic approach of "place as text" within mobility studies.

Layman's description

Development of curricular materials for exploring alternative perspectives of Americans' travel to Europe.

Key findings

A fundamental premise of the course is the notion that the Grand Tour and similar forms of student-travel reflect social constructions of society including race, class, & gender. This course is a retelling of the "Grand Tour" of Europe, the term typically used to describe the travels of young people in search of freedom, opportunity, and adventure. Americans have a particularly complicated relationship with travel to and through Europe. Participating students are invited to disrupt traditional grand tour narratives to contest stereotypes of elite mobility and celebrate progressive moments of decolonizing history.

In addition to the literature of the Black Atlantic framed by Paul Gilroy’s work of the same name, there is a growing body of fiction and republished autobiographical work that provides an interesting selection of texts to accompany our travels. Igiaba Scego's recently published novel, The Color Line, based on the lives of American sculptor Edmonia Lewis and abolitionist Sarah Parker Remond provides such a narrative. The novel is intertwined with historical pieces and current events that serves as a literary guide book to our journey, highlighting not only the experiences of black protagonists but also their complicated relationships with white allies and structural racism.

Materials will include maps and links to follow the historic route from England through Europe to Rome while examining the ways that the curriculum of travel has changed over time and how mobility contributes to a global society. The course follows the "beaten path" and uses that itinerary as the "text" in keeping with the pedagogic approach of "city as text" or "place as text" within mobility studies. The communication and audience engagement strategies used in decolonizing the museum are also considered to adjust our gaze from focused examination of a particular artifact to broad consideration of the global history of slavery and continuing inequalities along the Tour and at home in the United States.

The stories of the American Grand Tour also have direct implications for understanding the history of higher education in the United States and the countries the Americans visited or to which they expatriated. Traditionally the study of education abroad focuses on who goes, where do they go, what is the impact of their experience, and what is the benefit to the sending and receiving countries? This project examines the very question of cosmopolitanism and how we think about our histories of mobility.

Effective start/end date1/10/2312/14/24

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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