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An illustration is an example, image or photograph which accompanies text or indeed a piece of text which itself illustrates an idea. Its etymology, from the Latin illustrationem, indicates the action or purpose of an illustration, that is, to ‘enlighten’ or ‘to light up’ a text. Illustrations feature in travel texts from the early-modern period, often in the shape of maps or depictions of landscape. More recently illustrations have provided alternative modes of understanding travel and the identity of its participants.
Critical attention towards illustration in travel writing has come from a variety of disciplines, including art history, geography and literary criticism. Scholars approaching this field have drawn on cultural theory which addresses both visualities and textual production, such as the work of Barthes, Derrida and Genette. Derek Gregory's (2003, 224) term of a ‘scopic regime’ has been a useful concept for travel writing scholars to consider the ‘structuring effect’ of images.
Since the 1980s, cultural geographers have considered the role of the image in travel texts as indicative of ways of constituting power. The work of Cosgrove, Rose and Daniels explores the role of representation in making geographical knowledge and imagination. Cosgrove (2008, 3) notes how ‘graphic and pictorial images play active and creative roles that take the significance of representation beyond mere transcription of spatial and environmental facts’. More recent engagements with images in travel writing have noted their ability to disrupt and challenge dominant discourses. In her work on Nicolas Bouvier, Margaret Topping (2009, 332) draws on Barthesian notions of an ‘interlacing’ between text and image which produces ‘a recognition of polyphony and diversity […] fleetingly captured […] but also forever exceeding […] the interaesthetic spaces of negotiation between written word and photographic images’. Andrew Thacker likewise notes the interaction between text and image in his discussion of the illustrations of maps in Graham Greene's travel writing. He draws on Derrida's proposals noting that a map ‘such as the one at the start of Greene's book […] both adds to the text and substitutes [emphases in the original] for the written text’ (Thacker in Burdett and Duncan 2002, 11; Derrida 1976, 144–45).