AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
GERALD MACLEAN, The Rise of Oriental Travel: English Visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580-1720. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, 267 pp. $59.95.
RICHMOND BARBOUR, Before Orientalism: London's Theater of the East 1576-1626. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 238 pp. $75.00.
DANIEL CAREY, ed. Asian Travel in the Renaissance. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 234 pp. $39.95.
The personal travel narrative was just coming into its own in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Its origins range from faith-based pilgrimage narratives to the histories of Herodotus to the fictional melange of Mandeville. Early modern travel writers based their narratives sometimes on first-hand information, sometimes on prior writings, or sometimes on rumor. Moreover, like other forms at the time, travel writing is an admixture defying easy classification: part autobiography, personal letter, geography, natural history, ethnography, and more. Because of these factors, travel writing is notoriously unreliable as a source of knowledge about early modern culture. Modern disciplinary divisions further complicate travel writing as a subject. Is it the domain of literary scholars, historians, geographers, or someone else? When scholars utilize travel writing, it typically has been employed only in the service of other research. Literary scholars, for example, have used travel writing to illuminate dramatic texts, but rarely as a means of insight in to early modern cultural practices.
That said, the insights travel writing can provide are often a product of these difficulties. As a record of cross-cultural encounters, for example, travel writing can reveal how the English regarded the cultural other, and how they regarded themselves. However, it was not until the emergence of interdisciplinary fields such as cultural studies and post-colonial studies, and especially with the advent of Edward Said's Orientalism (1978), that travel writing (though mostly post-Enlightenment European) became a rich source for studies of the rise of modernism, colonialism, and capitalism. Examining discursive and material practices through travel writing has helped scholars from various fields see the instability of travel writing as a source of insight rather than confusion. However, the insights gained from this work, especially about the development of discourses and practices of colonialism, are not as easily applied to the early modern period. The dominance of European economic and military power and the stability of binaries such as East/West and Christian/Muslim that characterize post-Enlightenment cross-cultural encounters cannot be assumed relevant in the early modern period. What is more, the dominance of scholarly interest in European colonialism sometimes has led to skewed readings of early modern cross-cultural encounters that attempt to establish originary points for later colonial projects.
The Ottoman and Mogul Empires, rather than European states, were economic and military centers of power in the early modern period. Encounters and exchanges between these cultures and Europe were often asymmetrical, and characterized by anxiety and fear on the part of the Europeans and indifference on the part of the Ottomans or Moguls. Imperial projects in the New World were clearly established in the sixteenth century, while such projects in Asia and Africa, comparatively, developed more slowly. European interest in these areas tended to focus on trade and commercial competition rather than colonization. This is not to say that the Europeans did not portray themselves as culturally or morally superior; the writing of travelers, diplomats, merchants, and others all deployed a range of rhetorical strategies to manage the instability and asymmetry of these encounters.
The books under consideration here, mostly the work of literary scholars, are continuations of the interdisciplinary practice begun by Said and first adapted to the early modern period by scholars such as Nabil Matar and Daniel Goffman. Largely written by Americans and Europeans and largely focusing on English and continental contacts with Mediterranean cultures, these studies strive to recognize and account for the discourses and practices of early modern European cross-cultural encounters. In particular, this scholarship strives to avoid the teleological trap of regarding the early modern period as simply a precursor to the Enlightenment, orientalism, and modernism. They do this in part by recognizing the limitations created by accepting and reifying traditional binaries of cross-cultural encounters such as East/West, colonizer/colonized, and Christian/Muslim. Instead, by using interdisciplinary approaches and a variety of source texts, especially travel writing, the writers help reveal the rhetorical strategies early modern Europeans employed to represent their cross-cultural encounters. Our understanding of these strategies and representations helps provide us with a richer sense of early modern cultural identity.
In The Rise of Oriental Travel Gerald MacLean, professor of English at Wayne State University and Research Fellow at the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, uses four travel narratives written between 1599 and 1652 to reveal what various Englishmen found important about the Ottoman Empire and about themselves. To contextualize and illuminate these writings, MacLean draws on contemporary, modern records of the Middle East and North Africa, along with his own experiences as a traveler in those areas.
In his preface, MacLean describes his motives and methods, characterizing himself as a "biographer of books" and, to a further extent, of places. Books and places are what remain of early modern English travel east and MacLean makes good use of them, reading the accounts against each other, in the context of contemporary historical events and with a strong awareness of modern historiography. The goals of his project center on complicating assumptions about English attitudes toward the Ottoman Empire. First, as Matar and Goffman have shown, despite hostile portrayals of "the Turk" in works like Othello, the English regarded the Ottomans and their empire as by turns exotic and dangerous as well as potentially profitable and attractive. This view complicates self/other binaries, demonstrating how Ottoman culture offered attractive opportunities to the English and, in fact, even welcomed Christian converts. MacLean's second goal engages with a venerable truth of travel, that these travelers not only gained new knowledge about the world at large but found that their travels and encounters "changed what it meant to be English" (xiv).
MacLean takes a narrative approach to his investigation, following each traveler's journey from beginning to end and interspersing it with historical and cultural digressions, which clarify the particular issues and anxieties that the encounter with the Ottomans triggered in the English. The digressions use English and Turkish archival material to flesh out the travelers' experiences and make them more knowable to a modern reader. The result is a readable and informative book about English experiences in the lands of the Ottoman Empire that strives to illuminate, but not resolve, many of the tensions embedded in the cultural contact between English Protestants and Ottoman Muslims.
MacLean's first text is a manuscript diary written …