The Register & Visitors’ Book in Historical Scholarship: A Virtual Colloquium

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Call for Papers
June 1, 2021


The value of the institutional guest book/register as a source has become evident in recent historical scholarship. Studies have engaged registers from a broad range of approaches and interests, including the histories of travel and tourism, book history, historical geography, literary tourism, and legal history.

The form, legal status, and uses of these books varied markedly by site and jurisdiction: in some, their completion was required by law. In others, the ‘visitors’ book’ was a site of whimsical inscription, filled with prose, verse, and illustration. The material affordances of the books, and the regimes of surveillance enacted over them, also varied widely. In many cases, institutions maintained both the legally compulsory register and a voluntary book for guests’ inscriptions.

As scholars have unearthed these books in local, regional, and national archives, explored the legal, economic, social, and cultural contexts in which they were used—as tools of surveillance, as business records, as tableaux for leisure travellers—and used them extensively as sources in historical scholarship, they have developed fruitful intellectual exchanges. Beyond places of accommodation, research has encompassed books that were at other institutions and sites—stately homes, museums, universities, and places associated with the lives of famous authors, for instance—in the early modern and modern periods.

On Tuesday 1 June 2021 a workshop will bring together scholars using these books as evidence in diverse historical research programmes. We invite participation (through pre-circulated papers to be discussed in the virtual event) from scholars working on a range of projects that employ these sources in historical research, including (but not limited to):

  • Hotel guest books and registers as legal and social instruments
  • Guest books and registers as sources for the study of mobility and tourism markets
  • Institutional visitors’ books and practices of inscription and reading
  • Cultures of travel illuminated by guest books
  • Practices of travel illustration as revealed in guest books and related sources
  • Transnational vs national dimensions of guest book use
  • Early modern forms of the institutional guest book

Please submit a title and 250-word proposal, as well as a one-page résumé, by Friday 5 February 2021 to Kevin James at, to whom any enquiries may also be directed.

Contact Info: 

Professor Kevin James

Scottish Studies Foundation Chair and Professor of History

University of Guelph

Guelph, ON N1G 2W1


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