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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2010

E 392M • Europe's Asias

Unique Days Time Location Instructor


Course Description

Meeting time, location: (Official course schedule)

How many kinds of "East" are understood to exist before the onset of the so-called modern period, and how is access to them gained or imagined? Greek texts on Alexander's dialogues with the Brahmans, and the genre known as the Indika, suggest a fascination with India in the early Mediterranean West. Thanks to the commodity-value of silk, China's ancient Roman name, Sinae or Serica, is still part of the English language today. After antiquity, and before the period called the Renaissance, remarkable documents also assembled a sense of the many Asias: as, inter alia, a locus of pilgrimage, natural and cultural wonders, commerce and mercantilism, missionary activity, and military enterprise. This seminar proposes that we track, through medieval travel literature, Europe’s Asias: the Near/Middle East or West Asia; Cathay/China/Indochina; continental Eurasia; the three Indias; archipelago Southeast Asia; and even Japan, between the 12th and 15th centuries.

To compile the largest possible mental map of the world, we will also read beyond the European travel narratives that form our core focus. We'll examine how Islamic travelogues counterpoint Europe's sense of the East, and may consider European and Islamic cartographic representations of the world. We’ll read one Jewish travelogue, and—to disrupt the notion that the West gazes upon the East, but not vice versa—we’ll read, as windows into Asia’s Europe, Ibn Fadhlan’s account of his journey to Scandinavia and Russia, and Rabban Sauma’s 13th century Mongolian travelogue of his journey from China to the countries of the Latin West. To round off our multi-layered complications, we’ll consider the East as heaven and hell, in accounts of the afterlife, and in utopias/dystopias like the letter of Prester John and fabulations of the false paradise of the Assassins.


Sample texts (suggestive, subject to change, open to negotiation): the Greek Alexander Romance, Gerald of Wales' History/Topograpy of Ireland, the Letter of Prester John, John of Plano Carpini’s History of the Mongols, William of Rubruck’s Journey to the Mongols, Franciscan letters, Marco Polo’s Travels, Ordoric of Pordonene’s Description of Eastern Regions, Mandeville’s Travels; selections from Ibn Fadhlan, Ibn Jubayr, Ibn Battuta, Ata Malik Juvayni; Benjamin of Tudela’s travels; Rabban Sauma’s travels; Deleuze/Guattari on nomads, James Clifford, Mary Louise Pratt, etc, on travel, Susan Stewart on collections, Nerina Rustomji on the Islamic afterlife, Foucault on heterotopias, Dipesh Chakrabarty on minority histories and subaltern pasts, Gayatri Spivak on subalterns, disciplines, Asias, etc.


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