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The Literature of Walking: Pilgrimage, Labyrinth, Pathway, Trail

image of people walking

“ . . . a two-beat miracle, -- an iambic teetering, a holding on and letting go.”

                                                                                    -Paul Salopek, To Walk the World

Walking is literally in our bones. It is a physical act that is considered one of the characteristic traits of our species. It is also a topic, a trope, a theme in a vast worldwide literature. This course will explore the relationship between the two. What ideas about walking permeate these writings, and how might walking itself be conducive to writing, alongside physical well-being, sociability, activism, and contemplation? How has walking figured in the thought and imaginative writing of the past? What does it mean to walk? Focusing on the tropes of labyrinth, pilgrimage, pathway, and trail, we will explore writings that reflect on walking as physical and emotional therapy, as ritual, as spiritual and creative practice, as protest, restraint, and persecution. Our key writers will include walking “classics” such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Henry David Thoreau, Nan Shepherd, Federico Castigliano, Michel de Certeau, David Macfarlane, and Rebecca Solnit. We will also read widely in the many shorter forms that walking has inspired (essays, blogs, guidebooks, travel journals, diaries) and writing that tackles the politics of walking in urban spaces, enforced walking, and walking that is triggered by war, famine, and persecution. These readings will be informed by work in the interdisciplinary area of walking studies, and you will be welcome to develop an approach to the literature that draws on one or more of these fields (cultural geography, kinesiology, mobility studies, among others).

Evaluation will be based on short weekly reflections (25%), a seminar presentation (25%), and a final essay or creative project (50%).


Department of English, Queen's University

Watson Hall
49 Bader Lane
Kingston ON K7L 3N6

Telephone (613) 533-2153



Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.