NeMLA 2022: Walking in the Empire

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Vivian Kao/Lawrence Technological University
contact email: 

NeMLA 2022 (March 10-13, 2022, Baltimore)

Session Title: Walking in the Empire

Session Organizer: Vivian Kao, Lawrence Technological University

Walkers and walking figure prominently in the literature and literary theory of the long nineteenth century. Wordsworth, Hazlitt, Thoreau, and Leslie Stephen, for instance, explored walking’s potential to unite the human and natural worlds, the individual and the community, the rich and the poor, the past and the present. In the Victorian period, walking was associated with slumming, prostitution, and the seamier side of industrial progress, and by the turn of the century with ambling, strolling, and wandering. In the twentieth century, to walk was to resist conformity (Debord), to elude detection by the surveillance state (Certeau), and to escape the rationalizing tendencies of capitalism and technologization.

But all of these examples center on British, European, and American walkers walking in Britain, Europe, and America. What about the ways in which walking manifested in imperial geographies—in spaces not characterized by agrarian idyll, fashionable arcades, and busy metropolises, but instead by the heat of the desert and the stench of the tropics, by unfamiliar flora and fauna, and through encounters with the foreign, the uncontrollable, and the inexplicable?

This session invites proposals that investigate representations, accounts, theorizations, and other textual explorations of walking in imperial geographies and contexts in the long nineteenth century. Which characters in which texts walked, where, with whom, and why? Was walking an act of individual agency or communal punishment? How might British, European, or American cultural histories of walking translate, confront, or fail to interpret acts of walking in colonial territories? How might walking relate to other kinds of human movement, or other terms that signal mobility, such as migration, transportation, diaspora, or travel? How might literary representations of walking provide new ways of understanding empire’s relation to the environment, to the forging of new (or reviving of old) identities, or to notions of utility, improvement, progress, and humanitarianism?

Abstracts should be submitted on the NeMLA website’s abstract submission portal ( by September 30, 2021.

Questions should be directed to Vivian Kao at VKAO@LTU.EDU.