What is meant with a holiday, wondered Edward Freeman, and continued that he knew nothing about such a thing. For him, travelling was hard work. He was terrified of tourists who did not seem to understand that journeying was serious business. For the nineteenth-century historians, tourists who seemed to loiter pointlessly from one sight to another were something to pour scorn on. Finnish historians used an archetype of a Yankee tourist to describe everything they despised in the burgeoning late-nineteenth century mass tourism. This incarnation of indiscretion, silliness and shallowness was to be met everywhere where historians travelled on their archive tours and made them to curse the herds of tourists who crowded the historic landmarks. There they were, cameras wrapped around their neck, Murray’s or Thomas Cook’s travel guides in their pockets curiously gazing at the sights of grand European heritage without grasping the significance or complex historical meaning of the sight they so loudly admired.
Making fun of buoyant middle-class tourists was a popular sport in European scholarly and literary circles. After all, was there anything more useful for highlighting intellectual superiority than to draw parodies of tourists who were not blessed with the virtues of a genuine studious mind. Historians eagerly participated in this game. Comparing themselves with tourists provided an opportunity to strengthen the popular image of a historian who was industrious, serious and who travelled to learn and to discover, not to relax or to be entertained. Just as Freeman stated, travelling was not for fun, it was work, and a historian had to seize every opportunity to cultivate his mind, even when he was on the road.
Visiting historical sights was perfectly acceptable, even preferable, because it helped to visualize the past, but certain rules applied to this. Most importantly, historians saw sights and visited museums outside the archive hours. It was vital not to compromise research for fun or lose precious work hours in archives. Liisi Karttunen made it very plain for her friends and relatives that she toured Europe for scholarly purposes and therefore she had time to see sights only when she had some spare time. The weeknights were reserved for organizing notes and even on weekends she dedicated time for reading and writing her thesis. Because of her gender, it was particularly important for her to emphasize high work ethics and the avoidance of superficial entertainment. There were in Helsinki many who doubted women’s ability to conduct historical research and who were also suspicious about the real nature of Karttunen’s excursion.
Another important rule was that sightseeing had to be intellectually rigorous. In Rome, the members of the Finnish historical expedition understood the value of educational excursions and they were ready to guide other Finns around the town if they found them intellectually worthy. Unfortunately, they were also pestered by a high number of foolish countrymen who seemed to be more interested in shopping, visiting shows and enjoying the abhorred dolce far niente than learning about history and the roots of European civilization. For these tourists Henry Biaudet, the leader of the expedition, had a special treat. Cheerfully he welcomed them to a guided tour to Forum Romanum, Via Appia Antica or some other cultural monument and under the burning Italian sun he talked for hours and hours about insignificant details. The exhausted tour group was not dismissed even for the briefest moment to rest fatigued legs or nourish thirsty bodies in any of the shady nearby trattorias. No, Biaudet showed no compassion for his thoughtless compatriots. He hoped to teach them a valuable lesson about how a real scholar enjoyed sightseeing.
For historians, the constant mental exercise and an opportunity to learn were the pleasures of travelling. Summer or winter, near or far, home or abroad – oh how fun it was to dedicate every minute and hour to scholarly pursuits! Or, at least the nineteenth-century historians wished us to believe that their days were filled with nothing else but historical research. However, the joyful bicycle tours to the Roman Campagna and merry soirées of the Finnish historians together with writers and artists in cheap trattorias and osterias of the bohemian quarters in Rome tell us quite another story of their life in the shadows of the Vatican Secret Archives. Perhaps even historians needed to wind down every now and then.
With this I take the opportunity to wish you all warm and sunny summer – with or without some dolce far niente.