Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Before Orientalism: Asian Peoples and Cultures in European Travel Writing, 1245-1510

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Before Orientalism: Asian Peoples and Cultures in European Travel Writing, 1245-1510

Article excerpt

Kim M. Phillips, Before Orientalism: Asian Peoples and Cultures in European Travel Writing, 1244-1410 (Philadelphia, Pa: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). viii + 314 pp. ISBN 978-0-8122-4548-6. £52.00.

Kim Phillips's book explores how late medieval travellers from Europe represented the far east of Asia. In doing so, it suggests that concepts like postcolonialism and orientalism can often be rather blunt tools for scholars working on the texts these travellers produced and suggests ways in which these concepts might be refined.

Before Orientalism is divided into two parts. The first lays out the conceptual and critical background to Phillips's work and introduces key texts. After situating her study in the context of debates about orientalism in both medieval and modern studies, Phillips then proceeds to an extensive survey of the travel writings from which the remainder of the book draws its evidence. These sources are numerous and varied, but among the most frequently invoked are the accounts of the travels of Hetoum of Armenia, John of Plano Carpini, John Mandeville, Marco Polo, Niccolö dei Conti, Ordoric of Pordenone, Ricold of Monte Croce, and William of Rubruck. The second part of the book consists of a series of thematic studies that treat how medieval Europeans represented food, women, sex, civility, and bodies in their accounts of Asia. Throughout, Phillips focuses on what she terms the more 'secular' aspects of these accounts (p. 11). The common thread that emerges from her analysis is that these medieval travellers' accounts show relatively little interest in possessing or exploiting the territories and resources they describe. Similarly, European superiority is rarely asserted, except in religious matters. Chapters 6 and 7 on sex and on civility are particularly interesting. The former revisits Phillips's earlier work on pre-modern sexualities to argue that the connection scholars often draw between sexual and political possession is much less obvious in the medieval context. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.