Medieval Travelers

Discipline: History
Instructor: Salisbury
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 0925
End: 1040
Field Work: Day 1 - Cochin - 9 March | India
Prerequisites: Lower level European or World History course Download Syllabus

Like travelers from long ago, we will embark upon a voyage of discovery that will cover the globe, and like them we will see unexpected things and meet people whose lives are very different from our own. In this course, we will look at the writings of medieval travelers (from between 1000 and 1500), and share their wonder as they encounter people and places that seem extraordinarily odd to them. The accounts of cross-cultural meetings in the past, reveal much about European prejudices but also tell about how easy it is to misunderstand what we see. These accounts were profoundly influential in shaping how Europeans approached the world during the Age of Explorations and beyond. This course will explore the major primary texts and encourage students to analyze their own explorations in the light of the experience of the past. The texts will include peaceful explorations – Travels of Marco Polo, The Travels of Ibn Battuta, and influential, yet imagined accounts like Mandeville’s Travels. We will also read an excerpt from the “Acts of Thomas” which describe the apostle’s arrival in Chennai, India, and sets up the understanding of his church there. Through our travels, we will visit many of the sites described by the medieval travelers, and have an opportunity to compare their observations with ours. The close analysis of the texts will be supplemented by lectures on the regions we visit.

Field Work

Country: India
Day: 1 - Cochin - 9 March

Both medieval travelers came here, and we will tour sites that they would have seen. Our goal is to both recapture the descriptions in the texts that we have read, and to consider the nature of observation by looking at what the medieval travelers described and what they did not, and compare what interests us with what interested them. We will look at religion: the Siva Temple and a Mosque in Cochin. Then we will consider agriculture and economics at the Kunbalangi Integrated Tourism village on the island of Kunbalangi to see authentic rural culture. We will take a canal boat through the ancient canals that facilitated travel and trade from ancient times until today. Finally, there will be an opportunity to meet Indian students and discuss our differing observations. Academic Objectives:

  1. Learn about life and religion in medieval India.
  2. Observe differences and similarities between life today and life as described in the medieval sources.
  3. Compare and contrast medieval travelers’ experiences with ours today.
  4. Reflect upon the different perspectives travelers bring to an experience.