Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
Although the term was used earlier by Kris Lackey (1997, 53) and Jean-Didier Urbain (1998, 226), for whom it is synonymous with endotic (as opposed to exotic) travel, the most commonly cited definition was provided by Michael Cronin (2000, 19):
Horizontal travel is the more conventional understanding of travel as a linear progression from place to place. Vertical travel is temporary dwelling in a location for a period of time where the traveller begins to travel down into the particulars of place either in space (botany, studies of micro-climate, exhaustive exploration of local landscape) or in time (local history, archaeology, folklore).
To describe ‘dwelling’ as ‘travel’ is to transform it into something worth writing about, and vertical travel emerged in the wake of more than two decades of rapidly proliferating accounts of highly circumscribed journeys in which the author hardly travels at all, but brings to familiar surroundings a degree of curiosity normally associated with unfamiliar places encountered for the first time.
It includes books that describe a week at an airport (de Botton 2009) or repeated visits to the same motorway service station (Green 2004); in-depth explorations of a single thoroughfare (Attlee 2009; Abel 1995); the Contromano series on Italian cities (Lee 2012) or Thomas Spear's (2007) collection of snapshots of ‘a Haitian day’.
Historically, they may be considered descendants of the monographs based on the intensive fieldwork of modern anthropology, whose classic texts are mostly studies of small communities a long way from the metropolitan centres where their authors were trained, practising what Clifford Geertz (1975) called ‘thick description’. But their procedures have also been deployed outside the profession, much closer to home – perhaps most intensively in a wide range of documentary initiatives in the interwar years, associated with, for example, the Federal Writers Project in the United States, the Frankfurt School in Germany, the Documents journal in France and Mass Observation in the United Kingdom (see Marcus and Fischer 1986, 117–28, 186–87 for an overview).
Two approaches have attracted particular critical attention, and have generated their own distinctive terminology, reflecting their different genealogies.