Time to Eat the Dogs

A Podcast About Science, History, and Exploration

The Medieval Invention of Travel


Shayne Legassie talks about medieval travel, especially long distance travel, and the way it was feared, praised, and sometimes treated with suspicion. He also talks about the role the Middle Ages played in creating modern conceptions of travel and travel writing. Legassie is an associate professor of English and Comparative literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of The Medieval Invention of Travel.


Shayne Legassie

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Chapters 3 and 4 on voyages to the Holy Land posit the idea of “literate labor”: “A tendency to equate the endurance of the journey’s discomforts and the resistance of its temptations with the subsequent labor involved in composing the account” (117). The many texts in these two chapters reveal that pilgrims to the Levant used the memory devices of scholastic learning to record their travels, performed “a program of intellectual discipline” in Jerusalem (110), and drew attention to the work involved in presenting the knowledge of their journeys in written form. The authors in chapter 3 are the clerics Thietmar and Wilbrand of Oldenburg, and the Dominicans Burchard of Mount Sion and Felix Fabri among others. One distinguishing characteristic is that they appear to have taken notes during their travels, thus beginning the tradition of the travel diary. Chapter 4 examines travel writing to the Holy Land in terms of its “investigative” tenor, its “active, skeptical, and often painstaking investigations into past and present realities” of Jerusalem, areas around it, and increasingly sites along the way there (14). The authors are the same as those discussed in chapter 3 as well as another Dominican Riccoldo of Montecroce, William of Boldensele, and more. In some of these texts, attention turns to places within the Mediterranean, a change that Legassie describes as an “inward turn” geographically and towards “self-reflection about the manner in which the author undertakes the art of travel” (157).

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