Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through European Eyes, 1250-1625

Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through European Eyes, 1250-1625

Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through European Eyes, 1250-1625

Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through European Eyes, 1250-1625

Synopsis

This book is a major contribution to the study of the encounter between Europeans and non-Europeans in the early modern period and to a neglected aspect of the cultural transformation of Europe throughout the Renaissance. Focusing on European travelers in India and their analysis of Hindu society, politics and religion, it also offers a detailed and systematic study of the variety of travel narratives describing South India from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. In addition, the book proposes a novel approach to the study of European attitudes toward non-Europeans.

Excerpt

Southern India, especially the Malabar coast and the kingdom of Vijayanagara, received many European visitors during the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times. Their travel narratives and chronicles provide a unique insight into the encounter between Europeans and a non-Christian, non-Muslim civilization, which they neither wished to ignore nor were able to dominate. In effect, this is less a book about southern India and its visitors than a book about the European Renaissance from a new perspective, emphasizing the growth of an analytical discourse about human diversity. The choice of Vijayanagara as a case-study is designed to help develop a carefully contextualized argument about the evolution of European travel literature and its intellectual content, which not only seeks to identify changes, but also aims to explain their logic. This book contends that the logic of this cultural change was driven by interactions (and often misunderstandings) with other cultures, rather than by a mere projection of European aims and ideologies. In other words, contacts with non-Europeans were intrinsically important, rather than just rhetorically important, for the development of European culture. The powerful cultural transformation of the Latin Christian world from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries was therefore not simply the origin of a new western way of looking and dominating: it was also a genuine, if often twisted, response to the challenge of cultural differences experienced abroad and reevaluated in Europe.

This book therefore combines an empirical case-study, based on a systematic analysis of original sources, with an argument about the implications of this case-study for a general interpretation of the Renaissance, here broadly understood as a long-term process marked by the development of historical and naturalistic ways of thinking. The writing of this study has been constantly guided by a concern with understanding perception as a historical problem, raising questions . . .

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