No sitting American president traveled outside the country before Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Panama in 1906 to see the construction of the Panama Canal. Today Air Force One regularly carries the head of the executive branch to all corners of the world.

The University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab recently released “The Executive Abroad,” which maps the international trips of presidents and secretaries of state.

“As Trump prepares to make his first international trips to the Middle East and Western Europe, the map conveys how significantly travel by the executive branch has grown over the past eleven decades,” said Rob Nelson, director of the Digital Scholarship Lab. “In the first decade of the 20th century, presidents Roosevelt and Taft together made three trips to two places. A century later, George W. Bush and Barack Obama together made more than 300 trips all over the globe.”

“The Executive Abroad" allows users to select a president or Secretary of State to map their travels. The graph shows the frequency of and details about visits to each geopolitical region over time.

Tim Barney, an associate professor of rhetoric and communication studies, and 16 first-year students in his class, “The Rhetorical Lives of Maps,” collected the data for this interactive map. 

“Maps are a wonderful way to illustrate history,” said Barney, who wrote the book “Mapping the Cold War.” “Maps not only showcase historical background, but are also important articulations of American national interest and international aspirations.”

“Our class discovered that beginning with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, foreign travel by presidents became the norm. This both reflected and reinforced the U.S. government's more active role as a global power in the twentieth century,” Barney said.

The White House recently announced plans for President Trump to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome, before attending a NATO session in Brussels and a G7 summit in Sicily. By exploring “The Executive Abroad,” one will find details about other presidential visits to those locations, including the following:

Barack Obama
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

  • June 3-4, 2009
    Met with King Abdullah
  • March 28-29, 2014
    Met with King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz al-Saud.
  • January 27, 2015
    Met with King Salman bin Abdel Aziz al-Saud and senior officials.
  • April 20-21, 2016
    Attended summit meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council. Met with King Salman.

George W. Bush
Brussels, Belgium

  • June 13-14, 2001
    Attended NATO Summit Meeting.
  • February 20-23, 2005
    Attended NATO and EU Summit Meetings.

Richard Nixon
Jerusalem, Israel

  • June 16-17, 1974
    Met with President Katair and Prime Minister Rabin.

Dwight Eisenhower
Rome, Italy

  • December 4-6, 1959
    Informal visit; met with President Gronchi.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Castel Ventrano (Sicily), Italy

  • December 8, 1943
    Visited Allied military installations.

“The Executive Abroad” is part of the “American Panorama” project, which has been featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education, National Geographic, Gizmodo, Slate and other national publications, most recently for “Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America.”

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The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided grant funding to develop American Panorama.

Maps as Reflections

"Beginning with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, foreign travel by presidents became the norm. This both reflected and reinforced the U.S. government's more active role as a global power in the twentieth century.”
—Tim Barney, rhetoric and communication studies professor

Significant Growth

“As Trump prepares to make his first international trips to the Middle East and Western Europe, the map conveys how significantly travel by the executive branch has grown over the past eleven decades.”
—Rob Nelson, director of the Digital Scholarship Lab

Associate Professor
Visual rhetoric
Internationalism
Discourses of space and place
Cold War public address
Eastern European political culture
Director, Digital Scholarship Lab
19th century United States
Digital humanities