Re-Orientations: The Worlding of Marco Polo
Sharon Kinoshita is professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as co-director at the UCSC Center for Mediterranean Studies, and co-director, UC Multicampus Research Project in Mediterranean Studies.
Abstract: Composed in 1298, almost exactly at the midpoint of the extraordinary century chronicled in Janet Abu-Lughod’s Before European Hegemony, the text commonly known as Marco Polo’s Travels is typically taken (alongside those of frairs John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck) as a western narrative of first contact. The project from which this talk is drawn seeks to displace Marco’s text from this company. Rather, returning it to its original manuscript designation, Le Devisement du monde (The Description of the World), it sets it in a wider textual milieu that includes not only western merchant manuals like Pegolotti’s Pratica della Mercatura (originally entitled the Libro di divisamenti di paesi) but of contemporary Asian texts and genres: Arabic geographical texts, under titles like Kitab al-Masalik w’al-Mamalik (Book of Routes and Kingdoms) and the Surat al-ard (Picture of the World); the Persian historian Juvaini’s History of the World Conqueror; the Secret History of the Mongols, and others. Drawing on the recent spate of excellent scholarship on the Mongols, the Indian Ocean, East Asia, and Yemen, this talk takes Le Devisement as a window onto parts of Eurasia in a period that often falls between the cracks of national or regional historiographies. Through its focus on people like the Chinese artist Zhao Mengfu (Marco’s exact contemporary) and places like early Yuan Quanzhou or Rasulid Aden, it proposes a synthetic, synoptic perspective on this particularly cosmpolitan moment in world history.
This event is sponsored by RLL and the Center for European Studies (CES).