Emily Thomas is a distinguished academic philosopher who has ‘spent a lot of time by herself getting lost around the world’. Here she takes a trip to the wastes of Alaska and uses it to launch an extended meditation on a compelling question: what does it mean to travel? What is the significance of our urge to set off around the globe — not for trade, not to fight or conquer, but for its own sake?
By narrowing her remit thus, Thomas begins in 17th-century Europe, with the restless spirit of the Enlightenment. So we have no Pytheas, no Odysseus, no Marco Polo, no Ibn Battuta. Travel in her specific sense began as the prodigal child of science. It was about investigation, learning, the compulsion to explain, to understand and systemise.