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About Us

The Grand Tour Project began in 2008, when Giovanna Ceserani established it as one of the case studies within Mapping the Republic of Letters, the Stanford digital project dedicated to investigating early modern networks of knowledge through sophisticated digital approaches. The Grand Tour Project continues this mission while focusing  on eighteenth-century travels to Italy, and, now based within CESTA (Stanford's Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis), it maintains close links to Mapping Republic of Letters and other Cesta research clusters such as the Spatial History Project and Humanities+Design. While remaining based in Stanford, where it has involved over the years many undergraduate and graduate researchers, faculty and staff, it has also expanded its collaborations internationally, as exemplified by its workshops  (see People and Workshops). The Grand Tour Project is made possible thanks to generous institutional encouragement detailed at Project Support.


About the Grand Tour

In the eighteenth century travelers from north of the Alps flocked to Italy, for “the most interesting of all possible voyages,” as the Abbé Gabriel-François Coyer put it after his own journey in 1763. Dotted with the monuments that Northern cultural and social élites knew from their readings of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and populated by influential contemporaries who might be encountered in the flesh, the Italian peninsula held out the promise of an educational rite of passage rooted in humanist ideals of classical origins.

The story of the “Grand Tour,” as this journey was known, is the story of nations as well as of individuals, and as such it holds enormous cultural and historiographical importance today. To study the Grand Tour, to think about its participants and to re-create their pathways, is to encounter an increasingly diffuse community whose travels helped shape the modern world as we know it. This was a community of travelers consisting of the Enlightenment’s most sensitive minds and influential writers, of reluctant youths and intrepid women, of scientists and artists, of merchants, servants, and travel guides – the crossing of whose paths led to exchanges and interactions that contributed to a massive reimagining of politics and the arts, of the market for culture, of ideas about leisure, and of practices of professionalism.

Eighteenth-century travellers to Italy left a substantial footprint. There are countless published and unpublished travel journals, letters and other accounts; private and public collections hold a wealth of art, antiques, books and other objects; and records of visitors, from passport stamps to museum entries, are found in numerous archives. Yet this very abundance, dispersed so widely, poses a significant historiographical challenge. There is no single or clearly defined archive for the Grand Tour. And while it is understood that the Grand Tour was a widespread phenomenon, with innumerable individuals traveling across vast expanses (and this long reach a crucial feature of its influence), the fact remains that we barely glimpse its totality when we define and understand it through the writings of a small selection of the most well-known travelers.

About Our Digital Approach

The Grand Tour Project uses digital approaches and tools in order to widen our understanding of eighteenth-century travel to Italy and to produce new insights about it. The project focuses on the prosopographical Dictionary of British and Irish Travelers to Italy 1701-1800, compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive by John Ingamells  (Yale University Press, 1997). Ingamells’ 5213 entries, ordered alphabetically by last name, vary greatly in length and depth—of some travelers precious little is known about their time in Italy, while of others enough is known to fill pages. Taken together, Ingamells’ entries contain a tremendous amount of information on the Grand Tour, and it is the goal of our project to use digital tools to make the most of this wealth of information.

Image of Data Visualization for project

We started by manually drawing from Ingamells and entering information about travelers’ journeys and biographies into a database structure. This material allowed us to experiment with possible data visualizations. We explored widely, mapping the Grand Tour data in terms of time and relationships and in terms of geography and space, all the while becoming attuned to both the richness and the limits of the Dictionary’s entries (read more about this first phase here). The image above captures our work in these early years, when we experimented creating timeline visualizations based on the famous Priestley timechart of biography.

A focused study of sixty-nine architect-travelers drawn from Ingamells inspired a new approach that marks the current phase of the project. Close attention to the architects’ entries revealed a regularity of expression in the initial paragraphs of each entry, which in turn allowed us to parse and undertake structured text mining and disambiguation. The Grand Tour Project is now engaged in a digital transformation of the Dictionary that facilitates the multidimensional searching and browsing of its entries; the organization of this information into structured and usable data; and the analysis and visualization of this data. Out of this work we are developing the Grand Tour Explorer as an interactive scholarly resource. We are working to make the Grand Tour Explorer as extensive as possible in terms of data extracted from the Dictionary’s entries: we are building a research tool that allows searching by category across multiple dimensions and also across a number of built-in visualizations. The objective is to be able to ask questions—‘Who was in place x at time y?’--across the extent of the Dictionary, as well as to visualize travel by individuals, by aggregates, and by overall trends. Freeing the information from the alphabetic constraints of the print form and enriching it by multidimensional association permits us to cast an unusually wide net on the eighteenth-century Grand Tour of Italy, bringing into the picture more than five thousand travelers, who together represent a diverse scope of touristic experiences. Here below is an image of one of our digital entries in the Grand Tour Explorer, in which all the data in blue is actionable: if you click, for example, on the birth year '1724', the result will be the entries of all other travellers who were born in 1724.

Image of Entry


We are also well aware that, while it is unprecedented in its coverage, Ingamells’ Dictionary is not exhaustive. We decided to call our research tool ‘Explorer’ precisely because we see its main function as opening up questions and research avenues on the basis of the rich information in our database. But there is more information on eighteenth-century British and Irish travelers to Italy outside of the Dictionar, and one question for the future could well be whether and how to incorporate it in our database.

The Dictionar also presents a certain number of uncertainties and inconsistencies in the presentation of information that we are working to structure and resolve according to our research agenda (while always documenting our decisions). Our goal is to maximize the richness of the Dictionary’s text for digital approaches, so as to enable new research and to expand the understanding of the crucial role of the Grand Tour of Italy in eighteenth-century cultural and political history.