Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The delineation of a coastline: The growth of mutual geographic knowledge in China and the Islamic world from 750 to 1500
by Park, Hyunhee, Ph.D., Yale University, 2008, 278; 3317270
Abstract (Summary)

Most histories of contact between different societies and cultures begin in 1492 when Columbus first set foot in the Americas. This study, in contrast, aims to challenge such Eurocentric approaches to world history. It examines the long period of contact and exchange from 750 to 1500 between two of the most advanced societies in the world at the time: China and the Islamic world. These interactions suggest an alternate model for inter-cultural exchange quite different from the pattern of European colonization, namely, exchange between two societies at roughly equal levels of development.

Between 750 and 1500, sources from both societies reveal that the regular exchange of commodities, technology, and travelers contributed to an increase in mutual knowledge. This study traces the extent of geographic knowledge and coastlines reflected in written and visual sources by analyzing original Chinese and Arabic texts—the most important sources being geographic accounts and maps. Scholars and geographers in the two societies wrote sophisticated accounts about each other during this extended period of contact. Many of these accounts—in different genres such as travel accounts and merchant handbooks—contain information about trade goods, local products, inventions, and sailing routes. Chinese and Islamic maps that depict Afro-Eurasia allow us to trace the increase in commercial and scholarly contacts between the two societies. These maps differ from European maps that were often produced as part of a state project to conquer new territory.

People in China and the Islamic world did not know anything about each other in 750, when this study begins. Yet from that time on, scholars, sailors, and merchants in these two parts of the world gradually learned about each other, most rapidly in the many exchanges of the Mongol era (1260-1368). By 1500, Islamic geographers and Chinese geographers visualized their two societies as connected by a coastline linking the Islamic world with China, along which Chinese and Muslim navigators had been sailing since 750. As George Hourani noted half a century ago, the route from Canton (Guangzhou) to the Persian Gulf was the most heavily traveled sea route in regular use before 1492. After Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1498, he hired a Muslim navigator from Gujarat who knew exactly where to go on this well-known waterway.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hansen, Valerie, Gruendler, Beatrice
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 69/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African history, History, Middle Eastern history, Geography, History
Keywords: Ancient maps, China, Coastline, Contact, Geographic accounts, Geographic knowledge, Islamic world, The Islamic world, The Mongol Era
Publication Number: 3317270
ISBN: 9780549648840
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