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In Light of Another's Word

In Light of Another's Word: European Ethnography in the Middle Ages

Shirin A. Khanmohamadi
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    In Light of Another's Word
    Book Description:

    Challenging the traditional conception of medieval Europe as insular and even xenophobic, Shirin A. Khanmohamadi'sIn Light of Another's Wordlooks to early ethnographic writers who were surprisingly aware of their own otherness, especially when faced with the far-flung peoples and cultures they meant to describe. These authors-William of Rubruck among the Mongols, "John Mandeville" cataloguing the world's diverse wonders, Geraldus Cambrensis describing the manners of the twelfth-century Welsh, and Jean de Joinville in his account of the various Saracens encountered on the Seventh Crusade-display an uncanny ability to see and understand from the perspective of the very strangers who are their subjects.Khanmohamadi elaborates on a distinctive late medieval ethnographic poetics marked by both a profound openness to alternative perspectives and voices and a sense of the formidable threat of such openness to Europe's governing religious and cultural orthodoxies. That we can hear the voices of medieval Europe's others in these narratives in spite of such orthodoxies allows us to take full measure of the productive forces of disorientation and destabilization at work on these early ethnographic writers.Poised at the intersection of medieval studies, anthropology, and visual culture,In Light of Another's Wordis an innovative departure from each, extending existing studies of medieval travel writing into the realm of poetics, of ethnographic form into the premodern realm, and of early visual culture into the realm of ethnographic encounter.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0897-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    William of Rubruck writes these words upon his return to Acre after a two-year mission to Mongolia from 1253 to 1255, as part of his report to King Louis IX of France on the state of Mongolian society and customs, one of the medieval period’s most vivid ethnographic accounts. Here he is describing his immediate reception at the imperial court of the great khan, Mangu, where locals not only surround him and members of his Franciscan retinue, wondering at their display of bare feet in the subfreezing weather of Mongolian winter, but stare at them as if they were some...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Conquest, Conversion, Crusade, Salvation: The Discourse of Anthropology and Its Uses in the Medieval Period
    (pp. 11-36)

    If ethnography, defined as discourse on observed manners and customs, has a very long history, anthropology, defined not as the academic discipline established in the twentieth century but as the set of ideas and theories attempting to account for cultural diversity or the unity of the “human,” has an equally long history.¹ Anthropological thinking in the medieval period can be divided into two main discourses, each with its own distinctive assumptions and approaches to the other, the discourse of Christianity and the discourse of civility.² The medieval discourse of civility, derived from the Epicurean tradition of writers such as Lucretius...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Subjective Beginnings: Autoethnography and the Partial Gazes of Gerald of Wales
    (pp. 37-56)

    The earliest ethnography of Europe emerged from its borders, particularly as they underwent expansion in the twelfth century. Representative texts of such “border ethnography” include Adam of Bremen’s account of Baltic peoples, and his continuator Helmold’s description of Slavic customs, as well as a proliferation of texts about Britain’s natives, the Irish, Welsh, and Scots, viewed by Anglo-Normans coming into contact with them along Britain’s Celtic periphery. Gerald of Wales stands as the most important of these ethnographic border writers of the Celtic periphery, and among the most important ethnographers of the medieval period.

    Gerald wrote his four Celtic works...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Writing Ethnography “In the Eyes of the Other”: William of Rubruck’s Mission to Mongolia
    (pp. 57-87)

    The thirteenth century witnessed a remarkable opening of the Asian landscape and peoples to Europe. The great thirteenth-century missions, many of them instigated by Pope Innocent IV in part as a defensive strategy of knowing the Mongol other on Europe’s eastern border, produced an impressive set of ethnographic treatments of Asia’s Mongolian peoples, including those of John of Plano Carpini, Benedict the Pole, and Andrew of Longjumeau, and perhaps most gripping of all, William of Rubruck’s own. William’s mission, and the thirteenth-century missions generally, may now be viewed as part of medieval Europe’s great dream of converting Asia, and its...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Casting a “Sideways Glance” at the Crusades: The Voice of the Other in Joinville’s Vie de Saint Louis
    (pp. 88-112)

    As one indication of the historical connections between the crusading and missionary endeavors,¹ the biography of William of Rubruck’s sponsor on mission, King Louis IX, serves as one of the great crusade chronicles of the medieval period. It is in many ways atypical of the crusade chronicle genre, certainly at the genre’s outset. Chronicles of the First Crusade, and the many chansons de geste that emerged from its spectacular events, reflect little or no ethnographic interest in the Muslim other, whose defeat they describe in epic and ideologically driven terms as sanctified by God. This early crusading literature, whether it...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Dis-Orienting the Self: The Uncanny Travels of John Mandeville
    (pp. 113-144)

    The era of theTravels’ composition may be characterized as one in which Europe both turned away from the East and turned inward.¹ The fall of Acre, the last Christian outpost of Outremer, to the Mamluks in 1291 meant that trading, missionary, and pilgrimage routes to the East were significantly slowed. In 1316 the khans of Persia adopted Islam, thereby constituting a Muslim block on the trade routes to India and China. By the time Mandeville wrote in the mid-1350s, calls for a new crusade on the Holy Land were hampered by the reality of absorption of resources in the...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 145-148)

    On close examination, the premodern ethnographies ofIn Light of Another’s Wordreveal themselves to be highly complex cultural objects in which the voices and gazes of Europe’s others reflect images of Europeans back to them, holding up an often startling mirror to the late medieval European self. In theDescription of Wales, an ethnic Cambro-Norman hybrid cites native Welsh discourse in ways that show Anglo-Norman self-definition to be inextricably bound up with its colonial other. In theJourney, William of Rubruck reflects imperial Mongols viewing Latin Christians as adherents of a confounding faith, even as tamquam monstra, some kind...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 149-180)
    (pp. 181-194)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 195-200)
    (pp. 201-202)