Write An Analytical essay.

Write An Analytical essay

Write an analytical essay of 400-600 words addressing ONE of the following prompts:

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Information in these sources is useful for historians seeking to understand India, China, and West Africa during the period, yet historians view some of the evidence with skepticism. In what ways is this evidence useful even when it is not necessarily factual? In your response, be sure to point out specific examples from the primary sources.

For essay Option 1, consult the following course material:

  • “Working with Primary Sources,” pp. lxi – lxiv
  • “Working with Evidence: Travelers’ Tales and Observations” pp. 311-317
  • “Historians’ Voices: On Travel Writers” p. 319

Be sure all sources have been cited in the Chicago Manual of Style. See the Writing for History Module for citing assistance

Historians’ Voices

On Travel Writers

Travel accounts provide rich and often unique sources for historians, but they must be handled with care. The two selections that follow consider issues that historians confront when studying travelers’ accounts. In Voice 7.1, John Larner, an expert on Marco Polo, examines the suspicion put forward by some that Polo never traveled to China. In Voice 7.2, Natalie Zemon Davis, a prominent historian of the early modern period, explores the audiences for which Leo Africanus wrote his book.


  • Why have scholars questioned whether Marco Polo actually traveled to China?
  • How might Leo Africanus have altered his account for a North African rather than Italian audience?
  • Integrating Primary and Secondary Sources How do these two voices influence your reading of the Polo and Africanus selections in the source feature?


John Larner on Whether Polo Really Traveled to China | 1999

From the eighteenth century, as a result above all of Marco’s silence about many things in the China of his own time, the suspicion has been aroused in some readers that we are faced here with a fiction, the nagging doubt that the whole of Marco’s story of having been to China is untrue. Why does he never mention the Great Wall? Why is there nothing about what, in the fourteenth century, Odoric da Pordenone [another traveler] was to notice: fishing with cormorants, or the binding up of young girls’ feet? Why nothing on printing, Chinese script, acupuncture, tea or tea-houses? Why no mention of Confucianism or Taoism? Had he actually seen China … ? It is not too difficult to offer answers to most of these points. The myth of the Great Wall, for instance, obscures … the fact that much of it had fallen down by the thirteenth century. Almost everything the tourist is normally shown today was built in the sixteenth century. Referred to as the “sensi” or “sensin,” Taoist monks are in fact briefly mentioned in chapter LXXV. Foot binding was at this period limited to upper class ladies who were confined to their houses, and would be rarely observed by anyone outside their family. Tea-culture at that time had not reached North and Central China where Marco mostly resided.… [I]t can also easily be thought that Marco identified himself so strongly with Mongol rulers that he was indifferent to the mass of the population over whom they rule.


Source: John Larner, Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 59.






Natalie Zemon Davis on Leo Africanus’s Audiences | 2006

He [Leo Africanus] was keeping notes throughout his travels and consulting manuscripts whenever he could; he may have had an initial plan for a book and partial drafts of some sections in Arabic on his person when he was kidnapped. However that may be, it was in Italy that he became an author, and the final version [of his book] bears the stamp of his stay there.…


In a sense, though, [Leo Africanus] wrote his book with two audiences in mind. His primary audience was in Italy. For his Italian readers he searched for equivalents in weights, measures, coinages, foods, and material objects. For them, he sought Italian translations for words with no perfect equivalent.… For them, he struggled valiantly to transcribe Arabic words, names, and place names.… For Italian readers, too, he included only those animals “not found in Europe or that were in some ways different from those in Europe.”


Yet [he] also had African or at least North African readers and listeners in part of his mind as he composed. He must have imagined at least a few of them as possible readers of this Italian manuscript, and many of them as potential readers of a much revised Arabic version.


Source: Natalie Zemon Davis, Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim between Worlds (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 105–7.

Working with Evidence

Travelers’ Tales and Observations


During the third-wave era, as long-distance trade flourished and large transregional empires grew, opportunities increased for individuals to travel far beyond their homelands. Their accounts have provided historians with invaluable information about particular regions and cultures, as well as about interactions among disparate peoples. The authors of these accounts, perhaps inadvertently, also reveal much about themselves and about the perceptions and misperceptions generated by cross-cultural encounters. The sources that follow offer examples of how intrepid long-distance travelers described distant lands and how artists and mapmakers depicted faraway regions for those who stayed at home.


SOURCE 7.1 A Chinese Buddhist in India

In 629, Xuanzang (schwen-zahng) (600–664 c.e.), a highly educated Buddhist monk from China, made a long and difficult journey to India through some of the world’s most daunting deserts and mountain ranges, returning home in 645 c.e. after sixteen years abroad. His motives, like those of many other Buddhist travelers to India, were essentially religious. He wrote, “I regretted that the teachings of [Buddhism] were not complete and the scriptures deficient in my own country.… That was why I decided to travel to the West.”19 In India, the homeland of Buddhism, he hoped to find the teachers and the sacred texts that would answer his questions and resolve the many disputes that had created serious divisions within the Buddhist community of his own country.


During a ten-year stay in India, Xuanzang visited many of the holy sites associated with the Buddha’s life and studied with leading Buddhist teachers, particularly those at Nalanda, a huge monastic complex dedicated to Buddhist scholarship (see Map 7.1, page 284). He traveled widely within India and established a personal relationship with Harsha, the ruler of the state that then encompassed much of northern India. On his return journey to China, he carried hundreds of manuscripts, at least seven statues of the Buddha, and even some relics. Warmly greeted by the Chinese emperor, Xuanzang spent the last two decades of his life translating the texts he had collected into Chinese. He also wrote an account of his travels, known as the Record of the Western Regions, from which this selection is drawn. It conveys something of Xuanzang’s impressions of Indian civilization in the seventh century c.e.


  • What surprised or impressed Xuanzang on his visit to India? What features of Indian life might seem most strange to a Chinese visitor?
  • How might this selection illustrate or contradict the descriptions of Indian civilization found in Chapters 3–5?
  • What can this document contribute to our understanding of Buddhist practice in India?



XUANZANG | Record of the Western Regions | 7th century c.e.

On Towns and Villages


The towns and villages have inner gates; the walls are wide and high; the streets and lanes are tortuous, and the roads winding. The thoroughfares are dirty and the stalls arranged on both sides of the road with appropriate signs. Butchers, fishers, dancers, executioners, and scavengers, and so on [untouchables], have their abodes without [outside] the city. In coming and going these persons are bound to keep on the left side of the road till they arrive at their homes. Their houses are surrounded by low walls and form the suburbs.…


On Buddhist Studies


The different schools are constantly at variance, and their contending utterances rise like the angry waves of the sea. The different sects have their separate masters.… There are eighteen schools, each claiming pre-eminence.… According to their fraternity, they are governed by distinctive rules and regulations.… When a man’s renown has reached to a high distinction, then at different times he convokes an assembly for discussion. He judges of the superior or inferior talent of those who take part in it; he distinguishes their good or bad points; he praises the clever and reproves the faulty; if one of the assembly distinguishes himself by refined language, subtle investigation, deep penetration, and severe logic, then he is mounted on an elephant covered with precious ornaments, and conducted by a numerous suite to the gates of the convent.


If, on the contrary, one of the members breaks down in his argument, or uses poor and inelegant phrases, or if he violates a rule in logic and adapts his words accordingly, they proceed to disfigure his face with red and white, and cover his body with dirt and dust, and then carry him off to some deserted spot or leave him in a ditch. Thus they distinguish between the meritorious and the worthless, between the wise and the foolish.


On Caste and Marriage


With respect to the division of families, there are four classifications. The first is called the Brâhman, men of pure conduct. They guard themselves in religion, live purely, and observe the most correct principles. The second is called Kshattriya, the royal caste. For ages they have been the governing class: they apply themselves to virtue and kindness. The third is called Vai’syas, the merchant class: they engage in commercial exchange, and they follow profit at home and abroad. The fourth is called Sûdra, the agricultural class: they labor in plowing and tillage. In these four classes purity or impurity of caste assigns to every one his place. When they marry they rise or fall in position according to their new relationship. They do not allow promiscuous marriages between relations. A woman once married can never take another husband. Besides these there are other classes of many kinds that intermarry according to their several callings.


Source: Samuel Beal, trans., Su-Yu-Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1906), vol. 1, bk. 2, 73–74, 80–82.




SOURCE 7.2 A European Christian in China

Of all the travelers along the Silk Road network, the best known and most celebrated, at least in the West, was Marco Polo (1254–1324). Born and raised in the prosperous commercial city-state of Venice in northern Italy, he was a member of a family engaged in the long-distance trade of the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions. At the age of seventeen, Marco accompanied his father and an uncle on an epic journey across Eurasia that, by 1275, brought the Polos to China, recently conquered by the Mongols. It was, in fact, the relative peace that the Mongols had created in their huge transcontinental empire that facilitated the Polos’ journey (see Map 11.1, page 464). For the next seventeen years, they lived in China, where they were employed in minor administrative positions by Khubilai Khan, the country’s Mongol ruler. During these years, Marco Polo apparently traveled widely within China, where he gathered material for a book about his travels, which he dictated to a friend after returning home in 1295. The selection that follows conveys Marco Polo’s description of Hangzhou — one of the largest cities in the world at the time — which he refers to as Kinsay. Polo tells his reader that he constructed this description from both his visit to Hangzhou and a written account of the city sent to the Mongol khan in the hopes of sparing the city from destruction following its conquest.


How would you describe Marco Polo’s impressions of the city? What did he notice? What surprised him?

Why did Marco Polo describe the city as “the finest and the noblest in the world”?

What marks his account of the city as that of a foreigner and a Christian?

What evidence of China’s engagement with a wider world does this account offer?

MARCO POLO | The Travels of Marco Polo | 1299

The city is beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world.… First and foremost, then, the document stated the city of Kinsay to be so great that it hath an hundred miles of compass. And there are in it 12,000 bridges of stone.… [Most scholars consider these figures a considerable exaggeration.]


[T]here were in this city twelve guilds of the different crafts, and that each guild had 12,000 houses in the occupation of its workmen. Each of these houses contains at least twelve men, whilst some contain twenty and some forty.… And yet all these craftsmen had full occupation, for many other cities of the kingdom are supplied from this city with what they require.


[T]he number and wealth of the merchants, and the amount of goods that passed through their hands, were so enormous that no man could form a just estimate thereof.… [T]hose masters of the different crafts … neither they nor their wives ever touch a piece of work with their own hands, but live as nicely and delicately as if they were kings and queens.…


Inside the city there is a Lake … and all round it are erected beautiful palaces and mansions, of the richest and most exquisite structure that you can imagine, belonging to the nobles of the city. There are also on its shores many abbeys and churches of the Idolaters [Buddhists]. In the middle of the Lake are two Islands, on each of which stands a rich, beautiful, and spacious edifice, furnished in such style as to seem fit for the palace of an Emperor. And when any one of the citizens desired to hold a marriage feast, or to give any other entertainment, it used to be done at one of these palaces. And everything would be found there ready to order, such as silver plate, trenchers, and dishes, napkins and table-cloths, and whatever else was needful.…


Both men and women are fair and comely, and for the most part clothe themselves in silk, so vast is the supply of that material, both from the whole district of Kinsay, and from the imports by traders from other provinces. And you must know they eat every kind of flesh, even that of dogs and other unclean beasts, which nothing would induce a Christian to eat.…


You must know also that the city of Kinsay has some 3,000 baths, the water of which is supplied by springs. They are hot baths, and the people take great delight in them, frequenting them several times a month, for they are very cleanly in their persons. They are the finest and largest baths in the world.…


And the Ocean Sea comes within twenty-five miles of the city at a place called Ganfu, where there is a town and an excellent haven, with a vast amount of shipping which is engaged in the traffic to and from India and other foreign parts, exporting and importing many kinds of wares, by which the city benefits.…


I repeat that everything appertaining to this city is on so vast a scale, and the Great [Khan’s] yearly revenues therefrom are so immense, that it is not easy even to put it in writing.…


In this part are the ten principal markets, though besides these there are a vast number of others in the different parts of the town.… [T]oward the [market] squares are built great houses of stone, in which the merchants from India and other foreign parts store their wares, to be handy for the markets. In each of the squares is held a market three days in the week, frequented by 40,000 or 50,000 persons, who bring thither for sale every possible necessary of life, so that there is always an ample supply of every kind of meat and game.…


Other streets are occupied by the Physicians, and by the Astrologers, who are also teachers of reading and writing; and an infinity of other professions have their places round about those squares. In each of the squares there are two great palaces facing one another, in which are established the officers appointed by the King to decide differences arising between merchants, or other inhabitants of the quarter.…


The natives of the city are men of peaceful character, both from education and from the example of their kings, whose disposition was the same. They know nothing of handling arms, and keep none in their houses. You hear of no feuds or noisy quarrels or dissensions of any kind among them. Both in their commercial dealings and in their manufactures they are thoroughly honest and truthful, and there is such a degree of good will and neighborly attachment among both men and women that you would take the people who live in the same street to be all one family.


Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian, Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East, translated and edited by Henry Yule (London: John Murray, 1871), 2:145–50, 158, 160–61.

SOURCE 7.3 A European Artist Depicts Asia

While Marco Polo’s account is largely devoid of the wondrous monsters and races of humans that peopled many earlier European accounts of the East, his book did not immediately overturn these more fanciful ideas about distant lands. Source 7.3, an image that was created to illustrate an elaborate manuscript copy of Polo’s book, provides a revealing window into the persistence of older ideas. Drawn around 1400, it depicts three mythical creatures — a blemmyae or headless man, a sciopod or single-footed man, and a cyclops or one-eyed monster — none of which are mentioned in Polo’s text.


What about the three figures and the landscape in which they are placed might evoke ideas of wilderness or barbarity in the viewer?

Why might an artist commissioned to decorate Polo’s book of travels choose to incorporate these mythical creatures despite their absence in the accompanying text?

What does this source add to our understanding of how Europeans viewed East Asia in the early fifteenth century?



The Marvelous Races of the East | ca. 1410


SOURCE 7.4 A Moroccan Diplomat in West Africa

Known to the world by his European-derived nickname of Leo Africanus, this widely traveled Arabic-speaking Muslim was actually born as al-Hassan Ibn Muhammad al Wazzan in Granada, Spain, during the late fifteenth century, just as Islam was being pushed out of that country. His family moved to Fez in Morocco, where he was educated in Islamic law. Later, he served the sultan of Morocco as a diplomat and commercial agent, traveling widely in North Africa, the Middle East, Italy, and West Africa. On one of these journeys, he was captured by pirates and wound up in Rome, where he came to the attention of Pope Leo X. There he apparently converted to Christianity, at least for a time, though he later chose to live in Muslim North Africa and likely returned to his original Muslim faith. It was during his stay in Italy that he completed in 1526 the book for which he is most clearly remembered, The History and Description of Africa, based on observations and knowledge picked up during his travels. Later published in many languages, it became a major source of European knowledge of the African Islamic world, much as Marco Polo’s writings introduced Europeans to China. In the following excerpts from that book, Leo Africanus describes several of the major kingdoms and cities of West African civilization.


  • Based on these accounts, how does Leo Africanus characterize West African civilization? What can you infer about his own attitude toward this civilization?
  • What connections between West Africa and a wider world are evident in these passages?
  • What can you learn about the role of slavery in West Africa at a time before the Atlantic slave trade had become big business?
  • Why do you think these passages say so little about the practice of Islam, focusing instead on political and economic matters? (Keep in mind that the book was first published in Italy and in Italian.) Despite this omission, what can you infer about variations in Islamic observance in West African civilization at this time?

LEO AFRICANUS | The History and Description of Africa | 1526

The City of Timbuktu


All its houses are … cottages, built of mud and covered with thatch. However, there is a most stately mosque to be seen, whose walls are made of stone and lime, and a princely palace also constructed by the highly skilled craftsmen of Granada. Here there are many shops of artisans and merchants, especially of those who weave linen and cotton, and here Barbary [Muslim North African] merchants bring European cloth. The inhabitants, and especially resident aliens, are exceedingly rich, since the present king married both of his daughters to rich merchants. Here are many wells, containing sweet water. Whenever the Niger River overflows, they carry the water into town by means of sluices. This region yields great quantities of grain, cattle, milk, and butter, but salt is very scarce here, for it is brought here by land from Tegaza, which is five hundred miles away.


The rich king of Timbuktu has many plates and scepters of gold, some of which weigh 1,300 pounds, and he keeps a magnificent and well-furnished court. When he travels anywhere, he rides upon a camel, which is led by some of his noblemen. He does so likewise when going to war, and all his soldiers ride upon horses. Whoever wishes to speak to this king must first of all fall down before his feet and then taking up earth must sprinkle it on his own head and shoulders.… [The king] always has under arms 3,000 horsemen and a great number of foot soldiers who shoot poisoned arrows. They often skirmish with those who refuse to pay tribute and whomever they capture they sell to the merchants of Timbuktu. Here very few horses are bred.… Their best horses are brought out of North Africa. As soon as the king learns that any merchants have come to the town with horses, he commands that a certain number be brought before him. Choosing the best horse for himself, he pays a most liberal price for it.…


Here are great numbers of [Islamic] religious teachers, judges, scholars and other learned persons, who are bountifully maintained at the king’s expense. Here too are brought various [Arabic] manuscripts or written books from Barbary, which are sold for more money than any other merchandise.


The coin of Timbuktu is gold, without any stamp or inscription, but in matters of small value they use certain shells from the kingdom of Persia.


The inhabitants are gentle and cheerful and spend a great part of the night in singing and dancing throughout the city streets. They keep large numbers of male and female slaves, and their town is greatly vulnerable to fire. At the time of my second visit, almost half the town burned down in the space of five hours.


The Kingdom of Borno


They embrace no religion at all, being neither Christian, Muhametans [Muslims], nor Jews, nor any other profession, but living after a brutish manner, having wives and children in common.… They have a most powerful prince.… He has in readiness as many as three thousand horsemen and a huge number of foot soldiers; for all his subjects are so serviceable and obedient to him, that whenever he commands them, they will arm themselves and will follow him wherever he leads them. They pay him no tribute except tithes on their grain; neither does the king have any revenues to support his state except the spoils he gets from his enemies by frequent invasions and assaults. He is in a state of perpetual hostility with a certain people who live beyond the desert of Seu, who in times past marching with a huge army of foot soldiers over the said desert, devastated a great part of the Kingdom of Borno. Whereupon the king sent for the merchants of Barbary and ordered them to bring him a great store of horses: for in this country they exchange horses for slaves, and sometimes give fifteen or twenty slaves for a horse. And by this means there were a great many horses bought although the merchants were forced to stay for their slaves until the king returned home as a conqueror with a great number of captives, and satisfied his creditors for his horses. Frequently it happens that the merchants must stay three months before the king returned from the wars.… Sometimes he does not bring home enough slaves to satisfy the merchants and sometimes they are forced to wait a whole year.… And yet the king seems marvelously rich, because his spurs, bridles, platters, dishes, pots, and other vessels are made of gold. The king is extremely covetous and would rather pay his debts in slaves rather than gold.


Source: Leo Africanus, The History and Description of Africa, edited by Robert Brown (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1896), 3:824–25, 833–34.

SOURCE 7.5 A Korean World Map

Created in Korea in 1402, the Kangnido map by the Confucian scholar Kwōn Kūn is the oldest world map from East Asia of which copies survive. It provides an East Asian perspective on the world in the early fifteenth century, a period immediately following the collapse of the Mongol Empire, which had put distant regions of the Afro-Eurasia world into more sustained contact than ever before. The Kangnido map drew upon earlier maps from China, Korea, Japan, and the Islamic world. While Korea features prominently, appearing larger than Africa, China is understood as the center of the world, as Kwōn Kūn makes clear in the preface: “The world is very wide. We do not know how many tens of thousands of li there are from China in the center to the four seas in the outer limits.” (A li is a Chinese unit of distance, about a third of a mile.) The map includes hundreds of place names for even the most remote regions of Eurasia. Most of those for North Africa and Europe incorporate Arabic or Persian roots, revealing the influence of Islamic maps and mapmakers brought to East Asia by the Mongols. Regional labels not original to the map have been added to help you orient yourself. Note that the Mediterranean Sea is clearly outlined between Africa and Europe but is not colored in. Also note that much of the center of Africa is shaded in, indicating either a large body of water or perhaps the Sahara Desert.


  • Compare this map with a modern map of Africa and Eurasia. Which regions does the map depict most accurately? Which are least accurate? Why might this be the case?
  • What can a map like this tell us about East Asian knowledge of Eurasia and Africa around 1400?
  • How does this map reflect a China-centered view of the world?
  • What types of questions might this map help historians to answer?

The Honkōji Copy of the Kangnido Map, Korea | 15th century