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HomeFemale travellers in the Indian Ocean - 19th century-early 20th century

Female travellers in the Indian Ocean - 19th century-early 20th century

Les voyageuses dans l'océan Indien XIXe-première moitié du XXe

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Published on Tuesday, May 17, 2016


This is a call for papers from the historians of the University of La Réunion, members of the Research centre for studies on Indian Ocean societies (Centre de recherches et d’études sur les Sociétés de l’océan Indien-CRESOI) and the Indian Ocean Research Unit/Societies and Spaces (Unité de recherches Océan Indien/Espaces et sociétés) with the aim of publishing a collective work on the theme of women travellers in the Indian Ocean during the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century.



This research project is framed within the broader programmes of the CRESOI, and also comes as an extension of the multiple works that have so far emerged from the study of the history of voyage in the Indian ocean, in particular, voyages of the exploratory, missionary, military, administrative, scientific, and more frequently, colonial kind. The notion of voyage may be examined here in multiple ways : in its sense of a movement, or in its sense of the apprehension, the fear and/or the understanding of the  « Elsewhere », the « beyond » or the « yonder ». Voyage can also refer back to the transformation of the self when in contact with the Other. In the wake of Alfred Grandidier (J.E. Monnier, 2013), research concerned itself in large measure with men who had left their home bases to discover and delimit new spaces. Other studies have likewise focussed on the emergence of the female adventurer in France since the mid 19th century (V. Boulain, 2012).  Such inquiries enabled the identification of different female figures of the voyage. In a context where a sedentary way of life was considered as a « highly feminine » virtue, roving women could but begin to stir interest (M. Perrot, 2005), as did their desire to venture into new territories, and their demand for other practices and usages. The notion of departing moreover reveals a form of social transgression which reflects a distinct taste for freedom and emancipation. Further, those women who travel alone evince a specific profile which it is incumbent upon the historian to analyse and understand. Questioning the shifts in terminology from the female « grand traveller » (grande voyageuse) to the « explorer » (l’exploratrice), and later the « sportswoman » (la sportive), scholarship has so far framed them within a periodization which illuminates the mechanisms of the democratization and individualisation of the female adventure at the turn of the 20th century. 

Our research project based on the history of culture and representations intersects with colonial history,  the history of adventure and voyage (S. Vénayre, 2000, 2012), and also with gender and women studies (Revue Clio 28, 2008). It draws on the tools of analysis and results of literary investigations into the travel narrative (CRLV, Paris IV) or the travel press (CSLF, Paris Ouest Nanterre), a delicate,  precious source in this area of study. Having by now become a recognized academic field, the history of women travellers has undoubtedly given rise to an abundance of scientific productions, and biographical data.

Our research falls within the framework of these bibliographical and conceptual thrusts, and we wish the delve further into the study of women travellers in a specific geographical space : the Indian Ocean.

Covering more that 75 000 000 km2, the Indian ocean is a vast space, qualified as the oriental ocean or the Sea of the Indies in the 19th century. Its northern boundaries are India and Iran. It is framed in the East by Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia, in the West by Africa and the Arabian peninsula. To the South, the Indian Ocean gives way to the Austral Ocean and is caracterized by the presence of a large number of island, of which

-the islands in the south west of the Indian ocean: Madagascar and the archipelago of the Comores, the Seychelles, the Mascareines : Réunion and Maurice.

-the islands of Zanzibar and Socotra

-the Maldives and Sri Lanka (Ceylon)

-The Indonesian islands: Java, Sumatra, Bali

-The Australian islands

-the Austral and Antarctic islands 

During the period between 1850 and 1939, most of these territories came under European domination, colonized by the British, the French, the Dutch and the Germans. Maritime traffic underwent a radical transformation with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. By bringing Europe closer to the rim countries of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, the piercing of the isthmus paved the way for a real commercial, economic and cultural revolution.

What do the women travellers have to say about these spaces and shorelines ? about the people who inhabit them ? the social and political organisations of this geographical space ? If a trajectory is a construction of the mind as much as it is a typology (Rachel Bouvet, 2006), to what extent did these women travellers contribute to the forging of an imaginary of the Indian ocean through their narratives or their conferences given in learned societies ?

What were their recommended itineraries and routes, their compulsory stop overs ? their supposed risks to be avoided, their lived experiences, the promise of an exoticism offered in these remote territories ?

Finally, is there a spatial practice of the sex ? (Jaqueline Coutras 1987, 1996) which may be revealed in women’s writing or in their photography of the Indian Ocean ? 

Intuitively, the periodization brings to light two major eras in the female voyage which a survey will enable to further polish:

The first straddles a good part of the 19th century going up to the 1890s, revealing the first initiatives, and pionnering experiences, the emergence of female figures qualified as « grandes voyageuese ». The conditions of voyage, the routes taken, the contacts with the local populations refer back to the unknown, to the thirst for discovery and the taste for risk taking. We aim to foreground and cast new light on female explorers who made of the Indian ocean and its rim countries their ground of adventure. 

The second period extends from the 1890s onwards, within the context of the establishment of colonial empires. By the beginning of the XXth century, the female voyage increases in number, becomes more organized, is supported by the organs of the press, as well as by scientific, educational and commercial institutions. The women who then travelled were geographers, reporters, journalists, writers, photographers, navigatores, aviators…This is the second axis of our inquiry which interrogates the functions of the female voyage, within the context and the processes of colonisation. Our study will terminate just prior to World War II, before the real democratisation of the voyage and the advent, properly speaking, of mass tourism.

The data collecting of source material (préparation of the trip, organization, promotion..), the crossing of itineraries should bring to the fore figures that are representative of the mutations and strategies of female voyage in the course of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.  

Guidelines for the submission of texts and editorial calendar  

The texts can be presented in either French or English.

 Initial Proposals should be sent in the form of a title and a summary of 250 words (Times 12), accompanied by a short biographical notice to reach us

before the 15th of December 2016.

 The Scientific committee will examine proposals and inform applicants before the 15th of january 2016.

 Articles in their finalized version may contain between 40 000 and 50 000 signs (Times 12) and must be sent before the 15th of juin 2017.

 All texts have to be sent simultaneously to the two email addresses below : 

Evelyne Combeau-Mari : ecombeau@univ-reunion. fr

Valérie Boulain : valerie.boulain@orange.fr 

Scientific Committee

  • Boulain Valérie (DR Histoire contemporaine. U Réunion)
  • Combeau-Mari Evelyne (Pr Histoire contemporaine. U Réunion)
  • Meure Marie-Chantal (MCF Littérature. U Réunion)
  • Tampoe-Hautin Vilasnee (MCF HDR Civilisation. U Réunion) 


  • Colonial history  
  • women and gender studies 
  • History of the voyage
  • Indian Ocean
  • XIXth century and beginning of XXth century


  • Université de La Réunion - Avenue René Cassin
    Saint-Denis, Réunion (97400)


  • Thursday, December 15, 2016


  • voyage, femme, océan Indien, XIXe, XXe


  • Evelyne Combeau-Mari
    courriel : ecombeau [at] univ-reunion [dot] fr
  • Valérie Boulain
    courriel : valerie [dot] boulain [at] orange [dot] fr

Information source

  • Evelyne Combeau-Mari
    courriel : ecombeau [at] univ-reunion [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Female travellers in the Indian Ocean - 19th century-early 20th century », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, https://doi.org/10.58079/v2q

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