Shirin Azizeh Khanmohamadi
Cosmopolitanism and the Middle Ages, March (2013)
Late medieval travel writing offers us a number of remarkable glimpses of cosmopolitan thinking and practice, instances in which late medieval Europeans imagined themselves to be like global others, and alternatively, ones in which medieval Europeans imagined global others as being like themselves. In contexts of non-Christian salvation or conversion, moreover, these reports show medieval Europeans abroad testing and developing universalist notions of what constituted “the human”, as much as we find in modern treatments of cosmopolitanism. And if cosmopolitanism is as much a feeling as it is a way of thought or practice, these first person travel accounts are particularly suited to cosmopolitan investigation, for they provide readers with the subtle record of affect, that is, how it felt to be a latin Christian subject abroad in Asia and the Middle East in the late medieval period.
Attending to these affective signals, I argue in this chapter that in spite of the many cross-cultural identifications recorded within them, late medieval European travel writings imagine Latin Christian encounters with cultural and religious difference as profoundly disorienting and disquieting. In a range of European travel texts from different linguistic traditions- from the Middle English The Book of John Mandeville, to William of Rubruck’s Latin-language Mongolian mission, the Iterarium or Journey, to Jean de Joinville’s Old french account of the Seventh Crusade, the Vie de Saint Louis-we may view Europeans making remarkable imaginative leaps across boundaries inscribed by their religious and cultural markers, but find them far from feeling “at home in the world” as they do so.