Abstracts for the 2022 symposium: Globalism

Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona: Globalism in the Niederrheinische Orientbericht

While research on pre-modern travel literature has mostly focused on pilgrimage accounts, there are available also reports by such famous travelers as Marco Polo and Odorico da Pordenone (not to mention the mendacious John Mandeville). Only recently, the Niederrheinische Orientbericht (14th c.) has been made available in a modern critical edition and also in a modern German translation. This narrative presents astounding perspectives, with the anonymous author obviously having traveled far to the east, and having brought back with him detailed knowledge about the fauna and flora of the Middle East. Here we observe a true case of medieval globalism.


William Mahan, Stillwater, OK, Oklahoma State University: Going Rogue Across the Globe: International Vagrants from Medieval Europe, Asia and the Middle East

In European medieval literature, there is a plethora of well-known rogue travelers. These vagrants, pucks, and picaros felt too confined by the laws of their lands, and some traveled far and wide to enjoy a more flexible lifestyle. Lesser-known are the counterparts of these characters who traveled from Asia and the Middle East. Upon close examination, many literary and historical figures from these regions share the properties of the European bandit and prankster. Like Till Eulenspiegel, the Arabian Banū Sāsān (pl.) were tricksters, thieves, and vagabonds, but also poets who made it to the far reaches of the Abbasid caliphate (from Spain and Morocco to present-day Uzbekistan), Africa, the Mediterranean islands, and even continental Europe and India. Likewise, there were several noteworthy ‘Chinese’ explorers (often Muslims, who were cultural outlaws, or conscribed Mongolian marauders) in the medieval period. Fang Chengda was a poet and traveler during the Song Dynasty after a life as a youth in poverty. While travel literature was popular in the Song Dynasty, it was condemned during the xenophobic Ming dynasty. Zeng He, born Ma He to a Muslim family, was an orphaned youth who was captured, castrated, and conscribed into the Ming army in 1381. He then traveled through India and Eastern Africa to West Africa. Song Jian, though less cosmopolitan than these explorers, led a group of Chinese bandits who marauded many provinces across the empire in the twelfth century, and he is known as the Chinese Robin Hood. Such bandits also pursued Zoroastrian merchants along the Silk Road.

The punishments for vagrants who refused to follow the law were often severe, but this did not stop individuals, groups, and entire communities from living as outlaws. Forests and other secluded spaces offered refuge for bandits and others, perhaps most famously Robin of the Wood. Itinerancy was preferred by many rogues because it made it difficult for authorities to coordinate their capture. From time to time, even noble knights enjoyed the lawlessness of âventuré, forgetting their virtue and religious dictates when it was most convenient. The allure of the rogue as a “hero” of the people has stood the test of time, and, as this study argues, this figure gained popular appeal in various societies around the world in the medieval and early modern periods. This study will compare international bandits of Middle High German and other European tales to those of Persian/Arabian and Asian tales and history, considering ranges of travel, lifestyles, and lawlessness.

Thomas Willard, University of Arizona: John Dee and the Creation of the British Empire

John Dee (1529–1609) was a frequent advisor to Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603; reigned 1558–1603). Though he considered himself a mathematician, his advice to her drew from his knowledge of astrology (he calculated the optimal date for her coronation) and geography (he prepared maps for many of her explorers). He also made travel reports from European countries that show him as a spy in the disguise of a scholar. (Dee has been called the original 007 because he signed many of these reports with a symbol: two zeros to indicate that he was the Queen’s eyes abroad, and an extended seven that looked rather like a reversed square root symbol.)

The Oxford English Dictionary credits Dee as the first to use the term “British Empire” in its geographical sense, in a 1573 book on The Arte of Navigation.  {\displaystyle {\sqrt {9}}=3,}Although the OED considers this usage obsolete because it included only the British isles, he also used the concept in a book on the “limits of the British Empire” overseas, Britanici Imperii Limites (1577). Written for the Queen and her court, a limited edition was published sixty years before the OED’s first example of the modern term. The same book offered manuscript evidence of England’s semi-historical claim to lands in North America and the Arctic region. Most historians think of Dee as a propagandist, but those who have gone back to his manuscripts consider him a serious and patriotic scientist.

This paper will discuss Dee’s influence on England’s claims to lands in North America before they were first made in the 1570s. Included in the discussion will be a brief account of British exploration since the late 1400s followed by a short account of Dee’s life with attention to his relationships with Martin Frobisher and other explorers as well as his relations with contemporary cartographers like Gerardus Mercator, who influenced his own map-making. The conference presentation will be supplemented with images from his published books and maps. From Dee’s famous preface to his English translation of Euclid’s Elements (1570), one can appreciate his role as a reformer, introducing English readers to techniques of foreign writers from Vitruvius to Mercator and promoting technical studies in university education several decades before the proposals of Francis Bacon. Similarly, from Dee’s maps, one can see his efforts to make English leaders think globally.