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In Light of Another's Word

European Ethnography in the Middle Ages

By Shirin A. Khanmohamadi

Publication Year: 2013

Challenging the traditional conception of medieval Europe as insular and even xenophobic, Shirin A. Khanmohamadi's In Light of Another's Word looks 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 Word is 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.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-10

Et cum circumdarent nos homines et respicerent nos tamquam monstra, maxime quia eramus nudis pedibus, et quererent si nos non indigeremus pedibus nostris, quia supponebant quod statim amitteremus eos, ille Hungarus reddidit eis rationem, narrans eis conditiones Ordinis nostri.(People gathered round us, gazing at us as if we were freaks, especially in ...

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1. Conquest, Conversion, Crusade, Salvation: The Discourse of Anthropology and Its Uses in the Medieval Period

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pp. 11-36

If ethnography, defined as discourse on observed manners and cus-toms, has a very long history, anthropology, defined not as the aca-demic 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 ...

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2. Subjective Beginnings: Autoethnography and the Partial Gazes of Gerald of Wales

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pp. 37-56

The earliest ethnography of Europe emerged from its borders, partic-ularly as they underwent expansion in the twelfth century. Represen-tative 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 ...

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3. Writing Ethnography “In the Eyes of the Other”: William of Rubruck’s Mission to Mongolia

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pp. 57-87

The thirteenth century witnessed a remarkable opening of the Asian landscape and peoples to Europe. The great thirteenth-century mis-sions, many of them instigated by Pope Innocent IV in part as a defen-sive strategy of knowing the Mongol other on Europe?s eastern bor-der, produced an impressive set of ethnographic treatments of Asia?s ...

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4. Casting a “Sideways Glance” at the Crusades: The Voice of the Other in Joinville’s Vie de Saint Louis

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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 ...

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5. Dis-Orienting the Self: The Uncanny Travels of John Mandeville

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pp. 113-144

The era of the Travels? 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 routes to the East were significantly slowed. In 1316 the khans of Persia adopted Islam, thereby constituting a Muslim block on the ...

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pp. 145-148

...of Another?s Word reveal 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 the Description of Wales, an eth-nic Cambro-Norman hybrid cites native Welsh discourse in ways that ...


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pp. 149-180


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pp. 181-194


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pp. 195-200

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pp. 201-202

I want to begin by thanking Robert Hanning, my mentor and friend, for his constant, expert intellectual guidance and boundless support for the research and writing of this book. He, Robert Stein, and Mar-garet Pappano provided invaluable early support and direction for the project through insightful readings and provocative questions. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208979
E-ISBN-10: 0812208978
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245622
Print-ISBN-10: 0812245628

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 1 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 867742000
MUSE Marc Record: Download for In Light of Another's Word

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ethnology -- Europe -- History -- To 1500.
  • East and West -- History -- To 1500.
  • Travel, Medieval -- History -- Sources.
  • Travelers' writings, European -- History and criticism
  • Authors, Medieval -- Attitudes.
  • Civilization, Medieval.
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