Medieval Travel Writing collection

July 27th, 2010 § Comments Off § permalink

Adam Matthew Digital

(In a slight deviation from the usual material, I’ll be making a habit of reviewing reference sources, especially medieval resources, at USC Libraries. We recently added access to the following collection for our users. I’ve been dreamily wandering around its manuscript collection for days. If you are a USC student or have access through your own university library, I recommend checking it out!)

The Medieval Travel Writing collection from Adam Matthew Digital provides access to over 120 digitized manuscripts of late medieval works (13th-16th centuries) describing travels to Central Asia, the Far East, and the Holy Land, both in reality (Marco Polo) and via the imagination (John Mandeville). These works provide students with a source for writings that illuminate medieval trade, pilgrimage, travel geography, perceptions of eastern culture, and Europe’s relationship with “the other.”  Most of the manuscripts are held in British libraries but there are also MSS from German, French, and Irish libraries as well.

The current collection was proposed by Dr. Kim Phillips, Senior Lecturer of the Department of History at the University of Auckland and co-editor of a recent work on cultural encounters during the medieval and early modern period of European history. Dr. Phillips describes her intent for the collection in her introductory essay:

“The present paucity of adequate or accessible editions of certain medieval travel texts means that many (possibly most) students of medieval studies reach the end of their studies without ever having read some of the most important and popular works circulating in late medieval European culture. If the present collection of manuscripts is of any aid to future editors and translators in the production of accessible texts for students and scholars then it will have served its purpose well.”

Through the collection’s web interface, students can browse lists of authors/travelers, manuscripts, printed materials, and libraries. There is an image gallery for illuminations and maps (including the famous Psalter map), a small collection of essays by medieval scholars, and links to other manuscript collections on the web.

One of my favorite features is the “Chronology”: an interactive slide rule that allows the user to click and drag subjects (e.g. Conquest, Exploration, Religion) into parallel time lines and view the events side-by-side.

Other features on the website include an extensive bibliography, the ability to download pdfs of manuscript images in full or in part, and short lists of supporting material (e.g. articles, transcriptions) that accompany each manuscript record. The site is a useful resource for undergraduates and graduate students alike, providing a thorough introduction via primary sources to the most famous travel writers of the medieval period in Europe.