Centering Reykjavik, Imperializing Morris: The Viability of Travel Narratives in Architectural and Urban History

Houck, Olivia, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard Guy, Architectural History, University of Virginia

Iceland has consistently been portrayed as a place which occupies the periphery. This positioning can be understood in how it has been spatially, geographically and temporally represented by various entities in the last two centuries, notably British travelers who later publish accounts of their trips. The island is characterized as existing primarily within its prized saga tradition and medieval history, both of which are associated with the island’s rural landscape, and thus there is little documentation on the conditions of nineteenth-century Reykjavik. This thesis aims to re-center the capital city by compiling descriptions from British travelers to the island during this time, and using the commentaries to occupy the spaces with architectural elements, objects, interactions and people. This inventory includes; French prints hanging on the walls, German language books, cigars from Hamburg, errant Italian travelers, and conversations simultaneously conducted in four languages. These materials, objects and interactions work to demonstrate Reykjavik’s connection to global networks of trade, education and ideas. In service to this occupation of urban space, I analyze and categorize the travel accounts, arguing that they are constructed within a British imperialist production of knowledge. This lens is particularly novel when applied to the writer, designer, and socialist William Morris, who has been framed as a staunch anti-imperialist. By associating his trips and the methods of representation he employs within the other accounts of this time, written by such figures as Sir Richard Francis Burton and Sabine Baring-Gould, Morris is implicated within this larger structure of exoticization and exploitation of the island.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
urban, architectural history, Iceland, imperialist, Reykjavik, interior, William Morris, travel accounts, architecture
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: