University of Chicago Press, 2017
Paperback 2017.

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Winner of the 2017 Grace Abbott Book Prize from the Society for History of Children and Youth (SHCY)

Even today, in an era of cheap travel and constant connection, the image of young people backpacking across Europe remains seductively romantic. In Backpack Ambassadors, Rick Jobs tells the story of backpacking in Europe in its heyday, the decades after World War II, revealing that these footloose young people were doing more than just exploring for themselves. Rather, with each step, each border crossing, each friendship, they were quietly helping knit the continent together.

From the Berlin Wall to the beaches of Spain, the Spanish Steps in Rome to the Pudding Shop in Istanbul, Jobs tells the stories of backpackers whose personal desire for freedom of movement brought the people and places of Europe into ever-closer contact. As greater and greater numbers of young people trekked around the continent, and a truly international youth culture began to emerge, the result was a Europe that, even in the midst of Cold War tensions, found its people more and more connected, their lives more and more integrated. Drawing on archival work in eight countries and five languages, and featuring trenchant commentary on the relevance of this period for contemporary concerns about borders and migration, Backpack Ambassadors brilliantly recreates a movement that was far more influential and important than its footsore travelers could ever have realized.


“In the era of Trumped-up travel bans and a dis-Maying upsurge in xenophobia, Jobs’s erudite and lively Backpack Ambassadors offers a bittersweet reminder of hopes for an integrated Europe that may now feel as remote to readers as youth itself. . . . Assiduous archival research, together with compelling narratives of young people’s personal travel experience, including Jobs’ own, make Backpack Ambassadors a potent antidote to demoralizing accounts of Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen.”

--Book of the Week | Times Higher Education

“Richard Ivan Jobs has written an exciting book about an exciting topic”
--English Historical Review

Backpack Ambassadors is an important example of a transnational and interdisciplinary history which will prove to be an indispensable model for scholars of migration, youth, and/or identity of any period. Using a rich variety of sources, anecdotal, poll-based, cultural, and archival, Jobs creates a vantage point from which to view a myriad of processes that have made, transformed, and redefined what it means to be young, mobile, and European in the postwar age.”

“Jobs’s book unfolds with the drama of a whirlwind train tour, but despite its many stops, it never loses direction, showing how backpacking countercultures helped form pan-European identity and irrevocably changed the global tourism business.”

--Los Angeles Review of Books

"a tour de force, both methodologically and conceptually”. . . “remarkable” . . "very convincing” . . .”engaging” . . . “important” . . . "distinctive and original"

"A fascinating historical study" with "vivid examples that mobility is a concept that fosters new collective subjectivities and reworks existing relationships between states and individuals

“Jobs’ work is a tour de force.”  —Journal of Tourism History

"Anyone who ever strapped on a backpack, bunked in youth hostels and made their way across Europe will delight in Richard Ivan Jobs’s monograph on youth travel in postwar Europe. . . . Jobs has produced a first-rate transnational

history . . . Jobs not only contributes to the history of childhood and youth, to migration history and to a history of European integration beyond Brussels. He also suggests how successful cultural integration—rather than its failure—may feed today’s European crisis.” —German History

"Jobs ist es gelungen, einen wertvollen und gut lesbaren Beitrag zur europäischen Zeitgeschichte zu liefern, der zweifellos die bestehende Historiographie zur Geschichte der Jugend, des Tourismus und des Europagedankens bereichert.”

Backpack Ambassadors . . . should become required reading for any graduate or undergraduate course on postwar Europe.”


“Deeply researched and elegantly written. . . Jobs’s book opens fruitful avenues for future research. . .In a world defined by the reassertion of national borders, Backpack Ambassadors is an insightful and timely study.”
--Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

“In [Jobs's] capable hands, the complex, multi-faceted nature of European integration is given its just due; so too is the important yet long-neglected part played in this process by millions of unofficial, mobile young ‘ambassadors.’”


Backpack Ambassadors is “a well-argued, well-written work that will alter the established assumptions about how European integration emerged.  The book will find a wide audience.  Scholars and students of modern European history and European integration should not miss this work, but the general public, including many former young backpackers, will also appreciate learning how their personal experiences fit into the larger context of postwar European integration.  Highly recommended.  All public and academic levels/libraries.”


"This is an excellent study of what the author calls ‘transnational youth culture.’ It brings together two of the most important recent trends in the study of modern history: tracing transnational relationships, and examining youth as a key category. Historians have been seeking to transcend the traditional framework of the nation state in examining the past, and they have increasingly stressed the importance of documenting cross-border connections among non-national categories of people, such as gender, ethnicity, and age. Jobs adds to and vastly expands this important historiographic development.  There are new data and fresh perspectives on virtually every page.  The book makes required reading for all people, young and old, who are seeking to understand where humanity stands today.”

-- Akira Iriye, Harvard University

Backpack Ambassadors marks a true breakthrough in the international history of tourism, particularly because it develops a completely new and convincing approach for our understanding of European integration from 1945 to the present. By linking this important political topic to the everyday practices of youth, Jobs allows us to see it as a result of societal and cultural developments beyond the political sphere rather than a process triggered by initiatives of anonymous European institutions. This is a brilliant book.

-- Detlef Siegfried, University of Copenhagen

Backpack Ambassadors is a ‘bottom-up’ history of the construction of ‘Europe’ as both a political and cultural unit. It offers an account of the history of Europe and the European Union that is not dominated by bureaucrats or diplomats, but by the youth who created ‘Europe’ as they moved through its hostels and railways stations. Jobs has written a model of new transnational history, drawing on extensive research in multiple languages, countries, and archives to make a very convincing case for how the movement of youth across national frontiers shaped several of the major political developments of the postwar era—from postwar reconstruction to Cold War politics, the reconciliation of Germany and France to the social protests of the 1960s, and of course, European unification.”

-- Tara Zahra, author of The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World

“Jobs's lively, ambitious, transnational history of youth travel examines the transformative impact of mass travel on post-war Europe. Jobs takes us on a fascinating ride from the optimistic internationalism of the 1950s hostel movement, through the rebellious international youth culture of the 1960s, to the development of an iconic form of backpacking—complete with Let’s Go guidebooks—still prevalent today. We see how scores of independent, often idealistic young men and women traveling from Birmingham to Berlin to Budapest gave shape to a new kind of travel culture, a new international youth culture, and, most importantly, to a new ‘Europeanized’ social space.

-- Anne Gorsuch, author of All This Is Your World: Soviet Tourism at Home and Abroad After Stalin

“This is an important book, especially at a time of Brexit and the trumpeting of increased border building.”
--South China Morning Post