Nature and Scope

Detail from 'Selua deleytosa', Alcala de Henares, 1547, showing various bizarre creatures.This project provides an extensive collection of manuscript materials for the study of medieval travel writing in fact and in fantasy. The core of the material is a magnificent collection of medieval manuscripts from libraries around the world, dating from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries and focusing in the main on accounts of journeys to the Holy Land, India and China. The manuscripts are sourced from the British Library; Bodleian Library; Bibliothèque nationale de France; Cambridge University Library; Trinity College, Cambridge; Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg; Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin; Österreichische Nationalbibliothek; Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen; Beinecke Library, Yale University; Trinity College, Dublin; and thirteen other libraries and archives, to make a truly international collection.

The original documents are in a range of languages including English, Dutch, French, German, Latin and Spanish. Sections particularly relevant to the travellers on which the resource focuses have been highlighted, as for example in MS Bodley 648. Supporting these manuscripts are relevant secondary texts of translations and editions, as well as full catalogue details. The sources included tell us much about the attitudes and preconceptions of people across Europe in the medieval period, shedding light on issues of race, economics, trade, militarism, politics, literature and science. This collection will enrich the experience of all those exploring topics such as the nature of pilgrimage, the origins of global trade, travels to the Holy Land, the Silk Road, and the representation of the ‘East’ and the ‘other’ in the Middle Ages. In addition to the archival and published material there is a gallery of maps and images, a bibliography of published works germane to the manuscripts, and a chronology of the period.

Detail from an English psalter, after 1262, showing Christ holding the orb of the world.Prof. Kim Phillips of the Department of History at the University of Auckland submitted an original proposal for this project, detailing the manuscripts and supporting literature that would be desirable to include, and as many of her recommended manuscripts as possible have been included. A good number of manuscript images are provided in full colour, as well as images of individual decorations, illustrations and maps; these latter can be viewed in the gallery. Please see Prof. Phillips’s introductory essay for further information on the provenance of this project.

Great thanks should be extended to this project's five consultant editors, who have contributed essays intended to introduce students to different elements of travel in the medieval world, and provided advice about the content of the project and the material used in the bibliography and chronology.

Thanks must go in addition to the libraries which have contributed manuscripts and images, and, for their co-operation and enthusiasm, to the many librarians, archivists and curators who have helped with this project.