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

Spring 2005

E 392M • Routes across the World: The Middle Ages

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
32695 W
12:00 PM-3:00 PM

Course Description

This graduate seminar looks at how the world fits together in the Middle Ages in the eyes and understanding of those who traveled & imagined cities, geographies, peoples, & routes. What was important to Benjamin of Tudela as he mapped the diaspora of Jewish communities in the 12th century? How did Marco Polo understand Hangchow in China, with its waterways, bridges, and city centers, in the 13th century? What drove Ibn Battutta, as he traveled to Morocco, SubSaharan Africa, Egypt, Mecca, China, or Rabban Saurma, as he journeyed from Mongol Eurasia through the courts and countries of Western Europe and Latin Christendom? We’ll consider how the world was experienced and made intelligible by the individuals & communities who moved across it, & what a sense of place, location, & identity might mean in the medieval period, as we read travel narratives, biographies of sojourners, romances, historical documents, maps, ethnographies, & other literary, historical, & cultural materials. In reconstructing a sense of place and the multiple dimensions of travel, we’ll also ask how the imagination itself is mapped, and how places that transcend the known world are conceptualized, spatialized, and articulated with known geography. We’ll consider the prophet Muhammad’s journeys to heaven and hell (and a Zoroastrian precedent); the locations of isles of women and countries of Amazons; the habitats of cannibals, hybrid humans, and monstrous races; and the topography of the Islamic paradise, false paradises, and alternative worlds. We’ll also examine how the imagination of the other is mapped, as Ibn Fadlan’s anthropological study of the Vikings, a Fatimid spy’s account of Sicily, Al-Idrisi’s maps and travel tales written under the patronage of the Norman kings at Palermo describe the European world from the viewpoint of Islamic civilization. Simultaneously, we’ll study how the India & Persia of the Alexander romances, Polo’s China & Japan, William of Rubruck’s Mongol Eurasia, and Odoric of Pordenone’s Malayan archipelago assembled a vision of the East—bound into relationship with Latin Christendom through military, mercantile, & missionary adventures—as many Asias emerge in an enlarging world description. As we read anthropology, travel literature, and cartography, we will pay close attention to the production of the world at the intersection of gender, race, genre, and narrative.

Meets with HIS 397L: Geographies of the Imagination: Medieval Worlds Crosslisted: English, Middle Eastern Studies, Comparative Literature, Religious Studies A course in the series: The Global Middle Ages UT Instructors: Heng, Spellberg, (Lariviere) Visiting Faculty: Rustomji, Liu


Texts and authors include: Ibn Battuta, Benjamin of Tudela, al-Biruni, al-Idrisi, al-Jahiz, the documents of the Cairo Geniza; the Alexander romances, William of Rubruck, Rabban Sauma, Marco Polo, Odoric of Pordenone, Mandeville’s Travels.


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