A Long Way from Home: My Italian Adventure & Travel Narratives in the Filson’s Collections

I recently visited Italy for the first time.  My husband and I spent two weeks sightseeing in Italy’s great cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice, as well as the small town of Ravenna.  During our time in Italy, we saw some of the greatest art and architecture of the Western world.  We were amazed by the Colosseum and the Pantheon of ancient Rome, and marveled at the artistic creations of the Renaissance, including Michelangelo’s David and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  We were in awe of the intricate 1,500 year-old mosaic work at Ravenna’s Basilica of San Vitale—remnants of the Byzantine reconquest of the fallen Western half of the Roman Empire.

In addition to the sights we visited, we also were immersed in a different culture.  We enjoyed late evenings of restaurant dining where the meal was the centerpiece of the night’s entertainment.  We learned to tip minimally like Europeans, but to expect to be charged for water and for sitting down at a restaurant.  We navigated the public transit system (often confusing for Americans accustomed to car travel!), including city buses, the metro, and one time, a high-speed train.  We braved the busy streets of Rome, surviving, as my husband dubbed it, the “Roman death march into traffic.”  We bundled up for the cooler weather indoors as well as out, as our Italian hotel accommodations had not necessarily turned on the heat yet.

My experiences of the past two weeks got me thinking about the experiences of earlier travelers.  The Filson library has a wonderful collection of travelogues written about journeys through places including Kentucky, the Ohio Valley region, North America, as well as other parts of the world.  Browsing through our collection, a few titles caught my eye:

  • Domestic manners of the Americans, by Frances Milton Trollope (London, 1832).
  • Blood is thicker than water: a few days among our southern brethren, by Henry M. Field (New York, 1886).
  • Through the Cumberland Gap on horseback, by James Lane Allen (New York, 1886).
  • The land of Thor, by John Ross Browne (New York, 1867).
  • A woman’s world tour in a motor, by Harriet White Fisher, with 70 illustrations (Philadephia, 1911).

Those interested in the experiences of early travelers who visited the region west of the Appalachians may also want to visit the Filson’s First American West website, where many sources have been digitized.

As much as I enjoyed our trip, I am also glad to be home and looking forward to spending time with family later this week.  Happy Thanksgiving from the Filson!  I will conclude this post with a few obligatory vacation photos:

florence dome

My husband and I, with a view of Florence and Brunelleschi's famous dome in the background.



The Colosseum, Rome.


Michelangelo's Moses (sorry, no pictures of David allowed). Yes, he does have horns.

basilica di san vitale

Ravenna's Basilica of San Vitale, featuring the best Byzantine mosaics in the West.

Jana Meyer

Jana Meyer is an Associate Curator of Collections. She received a degree in History from the University of Louisville and a master's degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Kentucky. Jana specializes in arranging and describing the Filson's manuscript collections. In her free time, she enjoys playing board games and hiking with her husband and three-legged dog, Rascal.

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