In Light of Another's Word
European Ethnography in the Middle AgesUniversity of Pennsylvania Press The Middle Ages Series
Challenging the traditional conception of medieval Europe as insular and even xenophobic, Shirin A. Khanmohamadi's In Light of Another's Word looks to early ethnographic writers who were surprisingly aware of their own otherness, especially when faced with the far-flung peoples and cultures they meant to describe. These authors—William of Rubruck among the Mongols, "John Mandeville" cataloguing the world's diverse wonders, Geraldus Cambrensis describing the manners of the twelfth-century Welsh, and Jean de Joinville in his account of the various Saracens encountered on the Seventh Crusade—display an uncanny ability to see and understand from the perspective of the very strangers who are their subjects.
Khanmohamadi elaborates on a distinctive late medieval ethnographic poetics marked by both a profound openness to alternative perspectives and voices and a sense of the formidable threat of such openness to Europe's governing religious and cultural orthodoxies. That we can hear the voices of medieval Europe's others in these narratives in spite of such orthodoxies allows us to take full measure of the productive forces of disorientation and destabilization at work on these early ethnographic writers.
Poised at the intersection of medieval studies, anthropology, and visual culture, In Light of Another's Word is an innovative departure from each, extending existing studies of medieval travel writing into the realm of poetics, of ethnographic form into the premodern realm, and of early visual culture into the realm of ethnographic encounter.
"Khanmohamadi has rendered a valuable service to scholars and students of medieval travel writing, human geography, and cultural contact. She presents a clear-sighted and well-articulated vision here of the distinctive generic and discursive characteristics of medieval empirical ethnography."—Marianne O'Doherty, American Historical Review
"Extremely well written, lucidly exposed, Shirin Khanmohamadi's argument is carried by a graceful narrative and powerful close readings spanning three centuries and ranging from one edge of the known world, twelfth-century insular Britain and Wales, to the other extreme, thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Mongolia and Cathay. . . . A required point of reference in medieval studies and an indispensable classroom text."—The Medieval Review
"In prose regularly both fresh and elegant, Shirin A. Khanmohamadi transforms our understanding of the formal features of medieval ethnography, and offers an exciting account of the diverse ways ethnography can work."—Patricia Clare Ingham, Indiana University
"Shirin Khanmohamadi persuasively demonstrates the distinctiveness of medieval (versus antique and early modern) representations of non-European others. Shaped by a scrupulous attention to relative chronology and historical context, her analyses combine a sure-handed command of critical and theoretical discourses with nuanced close readings. In lucid prose, she makes a strong case for the variety and flexibility of Latin Europe's encounter with various non-Christian others across three languages and over three centuries. In Light of Another's Word is destined to become an indispensable entry in the bibliography of 'postcolonial' medievalism."—Sharon Kinoshita, University of California, Santa Cruz