The Traveller and the Book



Potted history:


With the decline of Roman power, Western Europe had become something of a backwater and there was a general stagnation in its technology, arts and scholarship.


Byzantium (4th C) = the Eastern Roman empire that under Constantine nominated its centre Constantinople in 330 AD as the 2nd Rome ...


 continued in the Graeco-Roman tradition, but from the Seventh Century the rise of the Arab empire, and the extraordinary flowering of the Islamic culture that followed, eclipsed Byzantium's ancient glory.


For nearly a thousand years the flow of ideas in technology and science was largely from Asia into Europe. Gradually, the balance began to change.


Profiting from the learning of Asia and Byzantium, Western Europe began to emerge from its 'dark ages'. From the Medieval period (c. 1000) through to the Renaissance, more European cities became actively involved in trade, generating the wealth to finance new universities and places of learning.


Increasing European naval expertise led to discoveries from the Fifteenth Century which opened up still further possibilities for trade - a route to India around Africa, bypassing the Middle East, and even of a 'New World', America.


By the start of the Eighteenth Century, Europe's command of the seas had led to its increasing domination of the world's trade markets and the slow erosion of the ancient trade patterns of the Silk and Spice Routes.


From the mid-1700s the so-called Industrial Revolution began in Europe, transforming its economy from one based on agriculture to one centred on ever-expanding industrial cities.


In little more than a century, the revolution in Europe was largely complete with the United States of America not far behind. The European and American output

of trade goods entirely outstripped that of Asia, swamping their markets. The Indian textile industry collapsed, for example, unable to compete with the steam-driven looms of Europe.


In much the same way as Europe had adopted and developed the technology and science of Asia during the Renaissance, the way was now open for Asian countries to do the same with the technology of the West.


But this enormous history is driven by the traveller and the book - experience and writing.




Processes in which knowledge spreads across long distances or over vast areas as an incidental effect of other diffusion processes such as the expansion of empires or the spread of religions.


What is the purpose of the traveller?


and link to Utopian narrative.



What kinds of Knowledge and information travels? Religious? Foodstuffs and spice? Books and papers from far lands?  Stories?



K and I are not necessarily the same: K precedes I?

I need to know how to write to inform?



And in which dimensions?  Space and Time? The latter entails antiquarian curiosity? The former - dreams of others' experiences?





Characteristics of Knowledge transmission


Traveller networks before the book



Knowledge processes may be of trans-regional and cross-cultural character,


but they may also be corridor-like, connecting distant regions by a thin and fragile chain of transmission, for instance, a trade route like the Silk Road or the Jesuit mission to China.


As knowledge is but a fellow traveller in these processes, the results of transmission are often only of a transitory nature but have the possibility of the long-lasting sedimentation of at least some achievements, such as practices of writing and calculating that later became relevant to the appropriation of scientific knowledge.


This kind of knowledge globalization began with the emergence of institutions bundling cultural activities such as centres of trade and production, states, and world religions.


As a consequence, transmission processes themselves became institutionalized. Commercial, military, and missionary activities provided new stimuli for knowledge transmission.


“cultural exchanges between the East and the West including international trade and religious activities from the 2nd century to the early 15th century, before the New World came onto the horizon” (Hahn)


Alexander the Great extended the horizons of both the Greek and the Asian worlds. Western scholars gained access to Babylonian and Indian knowledge of mathematics and astronomy.


When Rome ruled the Mediterranean, trans-Asian commerce relied on a delicate balance of power. Ptolemy’s world map reflects the Greek-Roman knowledge of known world by the 2nd century. The West knew a little about China through garbled accounts of Seres, the land of Silk.



But what kinds – can we divide K into ‘useful’ and ‘existential’?





And....Just as language traces/maps thought; so maps themselves trace experience and guide new experiences and possibilities






The Importance of the map



Useful: “Adventurous and well-travelled merchants made history as they acquired knowledge of global natural environments, and they recorded their discoveries in simple visual representations.” = maps = powerful storage devices for info.


But where Hahn notes: “cartography ….reflects the state of cultural activity, as well as man’s perception of the world” can we then still offer our division of knowledge? Does cartography span both?


Examining world maps from say Ptolemy’s world map (150 AD) onwards to others at the dawn of the modern age (16th C), we may learn of exchanges of culture and civilization between the East and the West.


comparatively little information was added to it until the 15th century”


The world as depicted by Ptolemy was gather from one Marinus of Tyre and though much of it was wrong, it was broadly right except of course there were large lumps of space simply called ‘terra incognita’


Ptolemy’s world map is the most efficient device for the storage of geographical information collected by international merchants up to the middle of the 2nd century.


As the ancient world came to an end and Europe entered the middle Ages, the Islamic Empire preserved, this great heritage of classical learning. The Muslims collected many texts including Ptolemy’s work in Damascus, and later, in Baghdad where a scientific academy was opened for translation into Arabic.


And moreover it is this and related forms of knowledge and its transmission that gives dominance to the Muslims in trade:


International maritime commerce remained largely in the hands of Muslim merchants until the arrival of Portuguese in the Indian Ocean in 1498.


Arabic documents from the medieval period suggest that the semi-annual reversal of surface currents in the North Indian Ocean was discovered in the 9th or 10th century as well as a theory of tides based on the lunar cycle.



Arabs as the librarians of global info networks - the collected as well as used the stored knowledge revealed in the maps as well as developed more understanding of the winds and the stars for further travel...which gave them geo-political and economic dominance for a while


The rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula was to have a resounding influence on political, economic and cultural development throughout the West. A result of that power was the control of trade between East and West. The Indian Ocean was opened by Arab maritime traders, changing trade pattern to porcelain and spice for the highest possible return on invested capital. The conquests of Islam resulted in a wide exchange of cultural ideas. Idrisi’s world map reflects Muslim knowledge of the known world by the 12th century including Greek-Roman sources.


Idrisi methodology: To produce the work, al-Idrisi interviewed experienced travelers individually and in groups on their knowledge of the world and compiled "only that part... on which there was complete agreement and seemed credible, excluding what was contradictory



The Entertainment for he who longs to travel the world was an Arabic geographical book written in Sicily in 1154 by the Muslim scholar Al-Sharif al-Idrisi. It was commissioned by the island’s Norman ruler, King Roger II, and drew on Greek, Islamic and Christian knowledge in creating one of the greatest medieval compendiums of geographical knowledge. The book contained seventy regional maps, and began with this exquisite circular world map, oriented with south at the top. Most early Islamic world maps were oriented this way because many of the communities that first converted to Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries lived directly north of Mecca, leading them to regard south as the correct direction of prayer.  The earth is encircled by sea and surrounded by fire, an idea taken from the Koran.







13th-14th C: Abraham Cresques compiled a world chart, known as the Catalan Atlas, in 1375 and he was called to Portugal to become the leading adviser to Prince Henry the Navigator. The Catalan Atlas suggest that Cresques and other Catalans were familiar with stories of travellers to the East.


The accumulated learning of the Greeks, the Romans, the Muslims and the Chinese was absorbed in the Catalan Atlas of Abraham Cresques. This was compiled in 1375, the dawn of discovery of the New World. This world chart reflects geographical details of the coasts of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and of south-Western Europe. It also includes some geographical knowledge of China, partly derived from Marco Polo’s narrative of his travels, and partly from the reports of Arab navigators and merchants who had visited China.



Cresques was supplied with copies of Marco Polo’s Book and Friar Odoric’s Description of Eastern Regions.



In the Atlas he marked cities and stations along the overland routes, including that followed by Nicolo and Maffeo Polo on their first journey.


“He also marked a more southerly silk route and the one on the Polos followed on their second outward journey except for a detour through Ormuz at the bottom of the Persian Gulf. In the extreme south-east, there is a great island of Taprobane with some note saying “This Taprobane is the last island in the East called by the Tartars Great Cauli”. Cauli or Kaoli was the Chinese and Tartar name for Korea which came from Rubruck and Marco Polo. Taprobane in Ptolemy’s world map was located in the middle of Indian Ocean, indicating present Sri Lanka (Ceylon). However, CresquesTaprobane indicates Korea by note. The 7548 islands ascribed to the eastern archipelago are certainly derived from Polo.”



The Silk Road was a main trading route that linked West to East but it also bore scholars, teachers, missionaries, and monks of different beliefs and practices, who met to exchange ideas.






Marco Polo’s description of the East became one of the most popular books in the West.


 Marco Polo can be attributed to being the spark for the Age of Exploration. His book "The Travels of Marco Polo", proved to be the most influential factor in the many European adventurers exploring the world. People like Christopher Columbus, Magellan, and Gama, all were caught up with the curiosity of the unknown, and trekked to discover the undiscovered of which would be the homes of civilizations unseen to the Europeans before...


After the compass (originating in China) came into use by Italian sailors, Italian merchant fleets gained control of the eastern Mediterranean and were effective in increasing Europe’s access to the exotic goods of the East.


And the conclusions we might draw from these linkages are…?



BTW: ‘chart’ and ‘map’: the Latin word ‘charta’ denotes paper and ‘mappa’ means cloth.





Knowledge spread:

The spread of advanced knowledge from the centres to less developed scholarly traditions at the European periphery was not a simple transfer. The case of the establishment of Newtonian science in the Greek-speaking regions of the Ottoman Empire it has been shown that new ideas introduced to the so-called periphery were not placed in a void; they rather interacted with and displaced other, usually strongly entrenched systems of knowledge closely associated with religion.



The production and dissemination of scientific knowledge as a fellow traveller of colonization, can, by active accommodation to new circumstances, become a powerful motor of decolonization.


The transmission of new technological and scientific knowledge under the conditions of external pressure often provoked an immune response mobilizing or newly inventing local knowledge traditions. In India such a mobilization led, for instance, to attempts to revive and reinterpret traditional Ayurvedic medicine in terms of Western medical and pharmaceutical knowledge.




Epistemological aspects of knowledge acquisition

 In a diary of his travels in China in 839 en route to the court of the T’ang emperor, the Japanese Buddhist monk Ennin noted that he ‘went to the estate of the Ting-chüeh-ssu and saw a water-powered mill’.



Four centuries later, the Franciscan brother William of Rubruck in his narrative of his journey to the court of the Great Khan in Mongolia made by order of King Louis IX of France observed that ‘the ordinary money of Cathay is a piece of paper made out of cotton, a handbreadth in width and length, and on which they stamp lines like Mangu’s seal’.


Friar Odoric’s Description of Eastern Regions. (link to reception history of Father Odorico's  his travel narrative, now known as his  Itinerarium or Relatio


And note how various additions and redactions were used to further religious identities



The significance of the pilgrimage as k-transmission

At Haridwar in Uttar Pradesh in the 1960s, the Indian government set up a (temporary) family-planning exhibition and a clinic to spread knowledge on family-planning techniques to the thousands of pilgrims who flocked to the city each year. The rationale for this choice was that ‘the large number of pilgrims who assemble at sacred places with no cost to the government (could) provide an inexpensive method for the dissemination of new ideas even to the remoter corners of the country.




Types of travellers:


Religious travellers – Father Pires discusses the trading role of Portuguese Jesuit priests (17th C) and more generally the wide range of goods and foodstuffs known to portuguese travellers  that circulated in China and Japan and from there to Portugal.


And Davids notes:


Although transmission of useful knowledge was not the prime object of their trip, it was nevertheless one of the effects that their travelling produced. The knowledge in question could also have been communicated by for example merchants, teachers or craftsmen through fairs, schools or training schemes), but from early times religious men or people who travelled for religious reasons evidently acted as carriers of useful secular information.


In the course of their journeys, pilgrims, monks or missionaries frequently passed through many different countries and had the opportunity to get acquainted with a wide variety of cultures, economies, societies and natural environments. And the men in holy orders who set on distant journeys often belonged to the literate elite of their day. They were thus able to transmit their observations and experiences in writing, which could give these a wider circulation than if they were only communicated orally.



Religious travellers are here regarded as one of the connecting links between different parts of Europe and Asia. Pilgrims, monks, missionaries, or clerics on a diplomatic mission could serve as carriers of useful knowledge between areas like Japan and China, China and India, India and Indonesia, Portugal and India, Persia and Yemen, China and Italy or Indonesia and the Low Countries.



Where is Cathay? and what does the Q tell us?

When in the early 16th century the Portuguese reached South-East Asia (Afonso de Albuquerque conquering Malacca in 1511) and the southern coast of China (Jorge Álvares reaching the Pearl River estuary in 1513), they started calling the country by the name used in South and South-East Asia. It was not immediately clear to the Europeans whether this China is the same country as Cathay known from Marco Polo. Therefore, it would not be uncommon for 16th-century map to apply the label "China" just to the coastal region already well known to the Europeans (e.g., just Guangdong on Abraham Ortelius' 1570 map), and to place the mysterious Cathay somewhere inland.





Gerardus Mercator's placing of the "Kingdom of Cathay" (Cathay Reg.) on the Pacific Coast north-east of China remained typical for a number of maps published in the decades to follow

It was a small group of Jesuits, led by Matteo Ricci who, being able both to travel throughout China and to read, learned about the country from Chinese books and from conversation with people of all walks of life. During his first 15 years in China (1583–1598) Matteo Ricci formed a strong suspicion that Marco Polo's "Cathay" is simply the "Tatar" (i.e., Mongol) name for the country he was in, i.e. China. Ricci supported his arguments by numerous correspondences between Marco Polo's accounts and his own observations

To resolve the China-Cathay controversy, the India Jesuits sent a Portuguese lay brother, Bento de Góis on an overland expedition north and east, with the goal of reaching Cathay and finding out once and for all whether it is China or some other country. Góis spent almost three years (1603–1605) crossing Afghanistan, Badakhshan, Kashgaria, and Kingdom of Cialis with Muslim trade caravans. In 1605,  he, too, became convinced that his destination is China, as he met the members of a caravan returning from Beijing to Kashgar, who told them about staying in the same Beijing inn with Portuguese Jesuits.

It was his expedition that made "Cathay... finally disappear from view, leaving China only in the mouths and minds of men"


The Book as Traveller

And what of the book as a printed book by the new trade of printing (15th C +)






Variety and motive of Reading Books






The Book against the traveller






Darnton's idea of the communications circuit of Books