License to Travel

License to Travel: A Cultural History of the Passport by Patrick Bixby 2022

About the Author
Patrick Bixby is Associate Professor of English at Arizona State University.

See his faculty bio.

See his Instagram page.

About the Book
This surprising global history of an indispensable document reveals how the passport has shaped art, thought, and human experience while helping to define the modern world.

In License to Travel, Patrick Bixby takes the reader on a captivating journey from pharaonic Egypt and Han-dynasty China to the passport controls and crowded refugee camps of today. Along the way, you will:

Peruse the passports of artists and intellectuals, writers and musicians, ancient messengers and modern migrants. 
See how these seemingly humble documents implicate us in larger narratives about identity, mobility, citizenship, and state authority.
Encounter intimate stories of vulnerability and desire along with vivid examples drawn from world cinema, literature, art, philosophy, and politics.
Witness the authority that travel documents exercise over our movements and our emotions as we circulate around the globe.

With unexpected discoveries at every turn, License to Travel exposes the passport as both an instrument of personal freedom and a tool of government surveillance powerful enough to define our very humanity.

“In License to Travel, Bixby explores the passport’s linguistic journey and much else. . . . An impressive survey.” ― Wall Street Journal

“A comprehensive, insightful history. . . . Bixby offers up a formidable survey of this everyday artifact and how it defines individuals and affords varying degrees of privilege and freedom, depending on one’s place of birth.” ― New York Times

“Neatly lays out the mighty power of the passport and the pains of passport inequality. . . . With License to Travel, Bixby also makes the argument that applying and carrying a passport is not just an administrative hoop that travelers must jump through: Having a passport gives us the freedom to travel—and the freedom to thrive.” ― AFAR Magazine

“Patrick Bixby is a gifted storyteller. License to Travel provides a wide-ranging history of the passport, including a systematic survey of its invention, deployment, and literary repercussions, as well as a series of considerations on contemporary issues facing travel, globalization, and immigration. Bixby has gathered spectacular anecdotes that are not limited to British and American culture, but also engage with German, Russian, Chinese, and French examples, which are all very well chosen and discussed in depth.”—Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

“This book makes a delightful, thorough, and sprightly contribution to the fields of cultural studies, mobility studies, and travel philosophy. By bringing together texts across different fields and by seizing the timeliness of the current upheaval of travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, Bixby’s book makes for an innovative and informative read around the charged topics of citizenship, belonging, identity, and borders. Employing an easy-to-follow voice and an invitingly open, inquisitive style, License to Travel draws readers into the voyages, conundrums, and passages of an eclectic array of characters and contexts.”—Christopher Schaberg, author of Grounded: Perpetual Flight . . . and Then the Pandemic

“Bixby offers us a luminous cross-cultural history of the passport, that precious object that stands at the intersection of the personal and the political. This is an important book for anyone interested in histories of mobility and the politics of border crossing from ancient times to the present.”—Deepika Bahri, author of Postcolonial Biology: Psyche and Flesh after Empire

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