Narrating the “Self” in 14th-Century Travel Writings: John Mandeville and Ibn Baṭṭūṭah 

Corbin Jones, Spring 2020

Thesis Chair: Kathryn McKinley

Committee members: Jessica Berman, Gloria Chuku

My work concerns identity formation in medieval travel writing: how both individuals and cultures use self-definition and the study of the other to form ideas of nation, race, and personal fame. Medieval constructions of medieval authors differ in their outlooks from modern ideas of skin color and the Other, but can be understood as formative in ideas of modern identity and culture. To that end, I study travel narratives. In particular, my master’s thesis focused most heavily on self-described English knight John Mandeville and Moroccan judge and hajji ibn Battuta.

Travel writers represent a different way of looking at the medieval European world. Travel writing describes aspects of medieval culture and literature resulting from the exchange of ideas across borders and rhetorics of culture that are defined relative to or in opposition to other people groups. The study of travel narratives makes our understanding of the Middle Ages more global and less ethnocentric.

The concept of self people have when they fashion a national, ethnic or religious identity is made in part by travel literature. Despite how connected medieval Europe was to North Africa and the Middle East, it is still hard to understand where the interconnections lie across diverse cultures, and the study of travel narratives gives us a better understanding of the world in conversation and conflict with itself across the medieval period.