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Vijayanagara in foreign eyes: a study of travel literature and ethnology in the Renaissance (1420-1600)



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Rubies I Mirabet, Joan Pau 


This dissertation attempts to understand the formation and transmission of images of non-European societies during the Renaissance from a case-study. An introductory chapter explains travel literature as a genre, and establishes its general importance for the early development of the human sciences in the European cultural tradition, in particular the empirical assumption that dominates the production of practically-oriented narratives based on the creative use of everyday language. The argument then goes on to focus on various descriptions of the South Indian kingdom of Vijayanagara written in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by foreign observers. This body of literature is studied thoroughly and in chronological order, with reference to the education and interests of the travellers and to the quality-of. their Indian experiences. Thus. the argument compares medieval with sixteenth-century travel narratives, and texts produced within a Muslim and a Latin Christian traditions. Finally, it attempts to evaluate the use travellers made of their rhetorical possibilities from a modern understanding of the complexity of the indigenous cultural tradition and political system. Continuous reference to the travel literature of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance connects this original case-study with the contemporary process of formation of ethnological languages in Europe. The conclusion argues for the understanding of travel literature as a possible form of cultural translation. It also defines the fundamental assumptions of Renaissance ethnology as the understanding of human diversity in natural and historical terms, albeit in the limited form of descriptions of social behaviour which avoided the open discussion of religious beliefs.






Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge