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How Far from Jerusalem? Tropical Customs and the Question of Race in the Book of John Mandeville


Mukherjee, Eric S. (2014) How Far from Jerusalem? Tropical Customs and the Question of Race in the Book of John Mandeville. Senior thesis (Major), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/6WP5-V229.


The Book of John Mandeville, while ostensibly a pilgrimage guide documenting an English knight’s journey into the East, is an ideal text in which to study the developing concept of race in the European Middle Ages. The Mandeville-author’s sense of place and morality are inextricably linked to each other: Jerusalem is the center of his world, which necessarily forces Africa and Asia to occupy the spiritual periphery. Most inhabitants of Mandeville’s landscapes are not monsters in the physical sense, but at once startlingly human and irreconcilably alien in their customs. Their religious heresies, disordered sexual appetites, and monstrous acts of cannibalism label them as fallen state of the European Christian self. Mandeville’s monstrosities lie not in the fantastical, but the disturbingly familiar, coupling recognizable humans with a miscarriage of natural law. In using real people to illustrate the moral degeneracy of the tropics, Mandeville’s ethnography helps shed light on the missing link between medieval monsters and modern race theory.

Item Type:Thesis (Senior thesis (Major))
Subject Keywords:John Mandeville; medieval travel; medieval history; race
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Astrophysics
Minor Option:History
Awards:Library Friends Senior Thesis Prize Winner, 2014. Gordon McClure Memorial Communications Prize, 2013. Alexander P. and Adelaide F. Hixon Prize for Writing, 2011.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Wey-Gomez, Nicolas
Group:Astronomy Department, Senior Undergraduate Thesis Prize
Thesis Committee:
  • None, None
Defense Date:13 May 2014
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06052014-141341323
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8487
Deposited By: Eric Mukherjee
Deposited On:06 Jun 2014 16:36
Last Modified:02 Aug 2022 21:45

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