Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Romance Languages and Literatures: Latin American and Iberian Literatures (Hispanic Literature)


English (en)

Date of Award

Spring 1-28-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Eloísa Palafox


This dissertation examines written travel accounts produced by Castilian and Andalusi authors and voyagers from twelfth- to fifteenth-century Iberia. The guiding research questions revolve around how journeyers encountered, reacted to, and reported on foreign peoples, lands, and customs as they left behind their homes and travelled throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. From their liminal position as persons displaced from their home societies and separated from the ideology and social relations of their native lands, travellers offer a new perspective on a web of connections that permeated a dynamic, responsive, and interconnected medieval world.

Chapter One examines the travel accounts of two Andalusi voyagers, Abu Hamid al-Gharnati, a Muslim scholar, and Ibn Jubayr, a pilgrim to Mecca. Looking particularly at religious questions, I read their travel diaries against a backdrop of supposed cultural and religious ethnocentrism and find that while both men hold on to their Muslim faith as a tie to their home worlds, each exhibits cultural awareness and curiosity and participates in a more complicated and diverse world than the one he left behind. Chapter Two is a study of the essential travel components of two popular works of Castilian fiction, the Libro de Alexandre (from before 1250) and the Libro del Caballero Zifar (c. 1300). I focus in particular on the positive representation of the foreign and how these works might reflect back upon the authors' home societies. These two ideas--the positive representation of the unfamiliar and the veiled commentary on the authors' native lands--are main themes in Chapter Three. This chapter treats two works of imaginary travels, the Libro del conosçimiento (c. 1390) and the Libro del Infante don Pedro de Portugal (in circulation by c. 1470). I examine the manner in which the authors utilize the foreign as a way to comment upon problems within their own communities. By setting up foreigners as models of inspiration, the writers were able to advocate for Christian unity and improved moral behavior by admonishing and encouraging their Christian readers without criticizing them outright. Two early-fourteenth-century Castilian travellers are the subject of Chapter Four. Ruy González de Clavijo, an ambassador of Enrique III to the Mongol-Turkic suzerain Timur in Samarkand, and the Cordoban knight Pero Tafur befriend foreign rulers and social inferiors, exchange gifts, and willingly participate in customs alien to their own culture and religion. Praising foreign societies for their wealth, power, and sophistication, Clavijo and Tafur portray themselves as special friends of important foreigners, thus positioning themselves as men specially suited to strengthen the bonds between Castile and alien civilizations in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

From the variety of reasons for and manners in which these men journeyed abroad, I conclude that travel is a unique act that has the ability to modify the voyager's perceptions of the unfamiliar and the foreign. By re-focusing the study of travel literature on the points of contact between the traveller and the foreigner, I attempt in this dissertation to highlight the ways in which medieval Iberian voyagers approached the unfamiliar with more open-mindedness and curiosity than might be expected given the social and historical contexts from which they departed.


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