The following is a broad reflection on medieval travel and the ways in which western Christians encountered and imagined non-Christians and non-Europeans. It is interdisciplinary and multivalent, and it considers a variety of sources, both historical and literary, from the eleventh through the fifteenth centuries. An especial emphasis is placed upon the ways in which these sources—including material objects—were disseminated, “read,” and interpreted. In addition to presenting an overview of who travelled and why, where they went, and how they conveyed themselves, the principle aim of this essay is to demonstrate the wide variety of medieval responses to cross-cultural encounters. Medieval people were neither simplistic nor one-sided, and they often changed their minds, not only as the result of real-life interactions with foreign peoples, but also sometimes as the result of hearing or reading about them. Included are observations about the ways in which people at all levels of medieval society, including the illiterate and untraveled, perceived the “other.”

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