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Early Modern Encounters: Travellers and Travel Writing

While travel narratives have a very long history (going all the way back to the Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Odyssey), the Early Modern period certainly witnessed an expansion in travel writing. The sources that travellers have produced give us insights into trade, diplomatic exchange, daily life, as well as religious conflict in various contexts. In this seminar we are going to look at two texts. The first text was written by Ogier de Busbecq, an ambassador dispatched by the Holy Roman Emperor to the Ottoman court in the 16th century. The second source was written by Evliya Celebi, who was an Ottoman traveller in the 17th century. We will discuss the challenges/benefits of using travel accounts in historical research.

Seminar Questions

  • Are these travellers ‘documenting’ their experiences, or are they ‘story-telling’? What is the difference?
  • How does their mode of travel (mainly on horseback) shape their accounts?
  • How do the two authors represent their own identities? For example, Donna Landry argues that Evliya Celebi should not be taken as a ‘representative Ottoman’: do you agree?
  • Can we view the authors’ (occasional) admiration and praise for the places and people they encounter as a vehicle for criticism of their own countries/empires/people?

Primary Sources

Evliya Çelebi, An Ottoman Traveller: Selections from the Book of Travels by Evliya Çelebi, Robert Dankoff, and Kim Sooyong (eds.) (London: Eland, 2010). Choose a ‘volume’ to read, ideally one that has material that corresponds to your own research interests (for instance, if you are interested in food history, you might want to read volume 1, if you are interested in remedies/medical history, you might want to take a look at volume 10 (Egypt and Sudan)). Needless to say, please feel free to read more than one volume, if you find the material interesting!

Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, The Life and Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq: Seigneur of Bousbecque, Knight, Imperial Ambassador (Cambridge Library Collection - European History) (C. Foster & F. Daniell, eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2012). Please read Letter I.

Essential Readings

  • Daniel Carey, ‘Truth, Lies and Travel Writing’ in Thompson, Carl (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Travel Writing (New York: Routledge, 2016).

  • Donna Landry, 'Evliya Çelebi, Explorer on Horseback: Knowledge Gathering by a Seventeenth-Century Ottoman', in Adriana Craciun and Mary Terrall (eds.), Curious Encounters: Voyaging, Collecting, and Making Knowledge in the Long Eighteenth Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019), pp. 43-70
  • Mikael Bøgh Rasmussen, Enemy Enticements: A Habsburg Artist in Süleyman’s Capital City’, Calíope: Journal of the Society for Renaissance and Baroque Hispanic Poetry, 19: 1 (Spring 2014), pp. 159-195 OR Barnaby Rogerson, ‘A Double Perspective and a Lost Rivalry: Ogier de Busbecq and Melchior Lorck in Istanbul’ in Gerald M. MacLean (ed), Re-Orienting the Renaissance Cultural Exchanges with the East, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

Further Reading

Karen Barkey, Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Nancy Bisaha, Creating East and West: Renaissance Humanists and the Ottoman Turks (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

Adriana Craciun, ‘What Is an Explorer?’, Eighteenth-Century Studies 45:1 (Fall 2011), pp. 29–51.

Robert Dankoff and Sooyong Kim, An Ottoman Traveller: Selections from the Book of Travels of Evliya Çelebi, trans. Dankoff and Kim (London: Eland, 2010)

Robert Dankoff, The intimate life of an Ottoman statesman: Melek Ahmed Pasha (1588-1662) : as portrayed in Evliya Çelebi's Book of travels (Seyahat-name) (SUNY, 1991)

Robert Dankoff, An Ottoman mentality: the world of Evliya Çelebi (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2004).

Robert Dankoff, ‘Did Evliyâ Çelebi “fall in love” with the Europeans?’, Cahiers balkaniques (online) 41, Evliyâ Çelebi et l‘Europe, ed. Faruk Biligi (2013): 15–26 (URL: ; DOI :

Robert Dankoff, From Mahmud Kaşgari to Evliya Çelebi: Studies in Middle Turkic and Ottoman Literatures (Analecta Isisiana: Ottoman and Turkish Studies, 2009)

Nandini Das and Tim Youngs, 'Introduction', in Nandini Das and Tim Youngs (eds.), The Cambridge History of Travel Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 1-16

Eric R. Dursteler, ‘Bad Bread and the ‘Outrageous Drunkenness of the Turks’: Food and Identity in the Accounts of Early Modern European Travelers to the Ottoman Empire’, Journal of World History, vol. 25, no. 2/3, 2014, pp. 203–28.

Natalie Zemon Davis, Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim Between Worlds (London: Faber and Faber, 2007).

Eva Johanna Holmberg, British Encounters with Ottoman Minorities in the Early Seventeenth Century: ‘Slaves’ of the Sultan (Cham: Palgrave MacMillan, 2022)

Gerald M. MacLean, The Rise of Oriental Travel: English Visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580–1720 (Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004)

Gerald MacLean, “Hospitality in William Shakespeare and Evliya Çelebi,” Shakespeare Jahrbuch Band 149 (2013): pp.117–35

Nabil Matar, In the Lands of the Christians: Arabic Travel Writing in the 17th Century (New York and London: Routledge, 2003)