Sources for a Prehistory of Ethnology in the Islamic World: Ibn Battuta’s Travels through Asia and Africa (1325-1354)
Keywords:Ibn Battuta, Rihla, ethnography, Islam
Within the discipline, the historical roots of ethnology and anthropology are most often traced through European antiquity, the enlightenment and the modern intellectual traditions of the West. Even though this view is somewhat justified (in that it follows a clear continuity in the development and scientification of the discipline in western universities), it, perhaps unintentionally, leaves out the intellectual efforts of Islamic thinkers and travelers, who had also, in their time, encountered various forms of “cultural otherness” and strived to represent and interpret them to their own readers. This paper focuses on Ibn Battuta’s decades of travel through Muslim lands – and beyond – and is envisioned as a theoretical experiment the purpose of which isilluminating the significance of Ibn Battuta’s writings, not only for the historical but also for the contemporary aspects of our discipline.It is a reflection on the ethnographic aspect of Ibn Battuta’s writings about the people and cultures which he encountered in his travels.
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