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Week 5. Fact and Fabrication: Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta

Two of the most famous travellers in world history, Marco Polo (1254-1324) and Ibn Battuta (1304-1369), still excite unceasing scholarly and popular interest nearly 700 years since their lifetimes. As witnesses to a connected world, the Venetian and Moroccan offer windows onto intense trans-regional mobility, interaction, and exchange across the breadth of Afro-Eurasia. Yet questions regarding the evidentiary status of their accounts continue unabated: What was the relationship between fact and fiction? What was the role of editors, ghostwriters, copyists, and textual borrowing? How was knowledge constructed, and where is the line between construction and fabrication? And might a focus on veracity even be missing the point altogether?

Core Readings

Simon Gaunt, Marco Polo's Le Devisement du Monde: Narrative Voice, Language and Diversity (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 2013), pp. 1-14, 173-182. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Roxanne L. Euben, Journeys to the Other Shore: Muslim and Western Travelers in Search of Knowledge (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), pp. 63-89. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Primary sources (read one)

Marco Polo, R.E. Latham (trans.), The Travels of Marco Polo (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958), pp. 74-112 (The Road to Cathay) LinkLink opens in a new window. [The whole book is available onlineLink opens in a new window. For the historical background as told by Marco himself, see the Preface].Link opens in a new window

Ibn Battuta, H.A.R. Gibb (ed.), The travels of Ibn Battuta, A.D. 1325-1354 (5 Vols. Cambridge: The Hakluyt Society, 1958-2000), Vol I, pp. 1-7 (Ibn Juzayy's Introduction, LinkLink opens in a new window), and a chapter of choice (e.g. Vol. IV, pp. 822-846: Maldives, LinkLink opens in a new window).

Seminar preparation

Please prepare a 1-2 page outline for the 1500-word historiographical review to be shared in the seminar for the purpose of soliciting peer feedback, containing the following:

  1. Your chosen concept
  2. An annotated bibliography of five secondary readings you will use for your essay, with brief summaries (2-3 sentences) of the author's approach and argument for each text.
  3. A paragraph detailing your argument with a bullet-pointed essay plan

Feel free to skim read the chosen texts at this point, focusing on keywords and the abstract to obtain a sense of approach, argument and content.

Seminar questions

  1. How do Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta construct claims to authority and truthfullness?
  2. Gaunt notes scholars' "tendency to privilege content over form" (p. 10). Why does this matter?
  3. Which components constitute the lens through which Ibn Battuta sees and judges his surroundings? Which do you regard as the most prominent?
  4. Euben discusses Ibn Battuta's tendency “to transform women into an index of the virtue and value of an entire people”. (How) do you see this in the chapter you've read? How does this compare to the case of Marco Polo?

Further Reading

Akbari, Suzanne Conklin, and Amilcare Iannucci (eds.), Marco Polo and the Encounter of East and West (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2008). LinkLink opens in a new window.

Allsen, Thomas T., 'The Cultural Worlds of Marco Polo', Journal of Interdisciplinary History 31.3 (2001), pp. 375-383. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Barsoum, Marlène, 'The traveller and his Scribe: In the footsteps of Ibn Battuta and their rendering by Ibn Juzayy', Journal of North African Studies 11.2 (2006), pp. 193-203. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Campbell, Mary Baine, The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing, 400-1600 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988), Ch. 3. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Carey, Daniel, 'Truth, Lies, and Travel Writing', in: Carl Thompson (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Travel Writing (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 3-14. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Carey, Daniel, 'The Problem of Credibility in Early Modern Travel', Renaissance Studies 33.4 (2019), pp. 524-547. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Chism, Christine, 'Memory, Wonder, and Desire in the Travels of Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta', in Nicholas Paul and Suzanne Yeager (eds.), Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image, and Identity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), pp. 29-49. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Cruse, Mark, 'Marco Polo in Manuscript: The Travels of the Devisement du monde', Narrative Culture 2.2 (2015), pp. 171-189. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Dunn, Ross E., The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century (3rd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012). LinkLink opens in a new window.

El Moudden, Abderrahmane, 'The Ambivalence of rihla: Community Integration and Self-Definition in Moroccan Travel Accounts, 1300-1800', in: Dale F. Eickelman, and James P. Piscatori (eds.), Muslim Travellers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination (London: Routledge, 1990), pp. 69-84. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Gordon, Stewart, When Asia was the World: Traveling Merchants, Scholars, Warriors and Monks Who Created the "Riches of the East" (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2008). Link.Link opens in a new window

Henige, David, 'Ventriloquists and Wandering Truths', Studies in Travel Writing 2.1 (1998), 164-180. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Ibn Battuta, Tim Macintosh-Smith (ed.), The travels of Ibn Battutah (London: Picador, 2003).

Jacoby, David, 'Marco Polo, His Close Relatives, and His Travel Account: Some New Insights', Mediterranean Historical Review 21.2 (2006), pp. 193-218. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Larner, John, Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).

Kinoshita, Sharon, 'Medieval Travel Writing (2): Beyond the Pilgrimage', in Nandini Das and Tim Youngs (eds.), The Cambridge History of Travel Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 48-61. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Netton, Ian Richard, 'Ibn Baţţūţa in wanderland: voyage as text. Was Ibn Baţţūţa an orientalist?', in Netton, Orientalism Revisited : Art, Land and Voyage (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 223-251. Link.Link opens in a new window

Psaki, F. Regina, 'The Book's Two Fathers: Marco Polo, Rustichello da Pisa, and Le Devisement du Monde', Mediaevalia 32 (2011), pp. 69-97. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Romano, John (ed.), Medieval Travel and Travelers: A Reader (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2020). [Primary source excerpts] LinkLink opens in a new window.

Rubiés, Joan-Pau, Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through European Eyes, 1250–1625 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). LinkLink opens in a new window.

Sell, Jonathan P.A., 'Embodying Truth in Early Modern English Travel Writing', Studies in Travel Writing 16.3 (2012), pp. 227-241. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Touati, Houari, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane, Islam and Travel in the Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Vogel, Hans Ulrich, Marco Polo was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues (Leiden: Brill, 2013). - See this ReviewLink opens in a new window of the book by Huynhee Park (2014).

Von Martels, Zweder (ed.), Travel Fact and Travel Fiction: Studies on Fiction, Literary Tradition, Scholarly Discovery, and Observation in Travel Writing (Leiden and New York: Brill, 1994).

Wood, Frances, Did Marco Polo Go To China? (Boulder: Routledge, 1996). LinkLink opens in a new window.

Marco Polo Bibliography, by Susan Whitfield (2019).

Imagining Medieval Narrative: The Travels of Marco Polo - Vanderbilt University

The Travels of Ibn Battuta - UC Berkeley

Ibn Battuta