From the twelfth century, a growing sense of cultural confidence in the Latin West (at the same time that the central lands of Islam suffered from numerous waves of conquest and devastation) was accompanied by the increasing importance of the genre of empirical ethnographies. From a a global perspective what is most distinctive of Europe is the genre's long-term impact rather than its mere empirical potential, or its ethnocentrism (all of which can also be found in China and in Islamic cultures). Hence what needs emphasizing is the multiplication of original writings over time, their increased circulation, and their authoritative status as a 'scientific' discourse. The empirical bent was more characteristic of travel accounts than of theological disputations - in fact, the less elaborate the theological discourse, the stronger the ethnographic impulse (although many travel writers were clerics). This anthology of classic articles in the history of medieval ethnographies illustrates this theme with reference to the contexts and genres of travel writing, the transformation of enduring myths (ranging from oriental marvels to the virtuous ascetics of India or Prester John), the practical expression of particular encounters from the Mongols to the Atlantic, and the various attempts to explain cultural differences, either through the concept of barbarism, or through geography and climate.
Contents: Introduction; Part 1 Contexts and Genres: The outer world in the European Middle Ages, Seymour Phillips; The emergence of a naturalistic and ethnographic paradigm in late medieval travel writing, Joan-Pau Rubiés; Ethnographers in search of an audience, J.K. Hyde. Part 2 Myths: Continental drift: Prester John's progress through the Indies, Bernard Hamilton; The medieval West and the Indian Ocean: an oneiric horizon, Jacques Le Goff; Marco Polo and the pictorial tradition of the marvels of the East, Rudolf Wittkower; The Indian tradition in Western medieval intellectual history, Thomas Hahn. Part 3 Encounters: Gerald's ethnographic achievement, Robert Bartlett; William of Rubruck in the Mongol empire: perception and prejudices, Peter Jackson; Neolithic meets medieval: first encounters in the Canary Islands, David Abulafia; Veni, vidi, vici: some 15th-century eyewitness accounts of travel in the African Atlantic before 1492, Peter Russell; Travel fact and travel fiction in the voyages of Columbus, Valerie I.J. Flint. Part 4 Explaining Cultural Differences: The image of the barbarian in medieval Europe, W.R. Jones; Perceptions of hot climate in medieval cosmography and travel literature, Irina Metzler; Index.
The 'rise of the west' is the most familiar and most elusive topic in global history. Everyone agrees it happened. No one can say how, when, where or why, without provoking dissent. Yet the world we inhabit is, by universal acknowledgement, the outcome.
In recent years, controversy has focussed on the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - the 'early modern period', when Western expansion became a conspicuous phenomenon in a world of colliding empires and unprecedented long-range cultural exchange. But, like most such apparently new departures in history, Western European activity in the 'expanding world' of early modernity is best understood against a background of long, sometimes faltering preparation in the Middle Ages.
Therefore, following the success of the series An Expanding World, a series of key papers on the period, published by Routledge and edited by A.J.R. Russell-Wood, Ashgate has commissioned an attempt to collect cutting-edge research on the medieval background and events of European expansion. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto and James Muldoon have gathered classic and key contributions from learned journals and other arcane publications to give readers a conspectus of knowledge, analysis and reflection on the history of the frontiers, mental horizons, internal expansion and means of growth of Latin Christendom from the eleventh to the early sixteenth centuries.