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How Did Travelers Construct Cultures in Comparative Literature?

It is interesting to know that not only the writers of comparative literature contributed in the comparison of two text (two cultures) in order to drew out which the text (culture) was better, but the travellers and historians also took an active part in constructing cultures by observing the two cultures. 

The difference in the methods of studying and doing comparison among all these comparatists lies in the idea that the scholars, critics and writers of comparative literature were used to read texts in different languages in order to find the values and at the end, to make analysis. But, the historians and travellers made real visits to the other countries and used their naked eye to compare their cultures with the cultures of visited countries. Hence, the former were comparing the values of nations in their literature while sitting in one room and later were comparing the values in their culture while visiting physically. In both the cases, regardless of the fact that these writers were making translations, analysing two texts or narrating cultures of other countries, all their exercises was the part and process of manipulation.

It is also important to know that one historian differs from another in context of making observations, collecting information, analysing two cultures, writing or recording events and finally its judgment. Here, in this section, the different accounts of travellers will be discussed.

A critic, Susan Bassnett has detailed different kinds of narratives by some travellers or historians in her book “Comparative Literature: A Critical Introduction” as,

“Map makers produced with text that can be used in very specific ways, Translator’s intervened in the inter-lingual transfer with every word they choose, Travel writers constantly positioned themselves in relation to their point of origin in a culture and the context they were describing”.

Michael Foucault, a French philosopher, has suggested that there are only two forms of comparison while comparing the two literatures.

  1. The comparison of measurement
  2. The comparison of order

Firstly, Foucault gave the old concept or principle to do comparison between two texts. He named this practice as the comparison of measurement. In this type of comparison, comparative literary study concerned with setting up canons of …

  • Primary and Secondary authors
  • Greater and lesser texts
  • Stronger and weaker cultures
  • Majority and minority languages
  • Trying hard to keep the ideological implications

Secondly, he gave the new concept of comparative literary studies (as the comparison of order) involves

  • A change in our readings of the counts of journeys of the Diaries letters translations and tales told by travellers of their experiences of other culture.
  • From Travellers accounts of their journeys we can trace the presence of cultural stereotypes.

For example;

1st Traveller:      J. B. Scott of Bungay

Jane Austen’s contemporary Bungay travelled to France and Italy in 1814. His journeys were full of stories written about Napoleon and the following details were described.

  • Records on meals
  • The statements about the landscape and the people
  • The comments about clothes and appearance of women

Look at the stereotypical example from his writing:

 “Tuscan men are a fine intelligent set of people, their hatred for the French is fully equal by that they entertain for Austrians”

He called the men and women as Leghorn. It was his anthropological note. He wrote that women have large earrings and pretty headgear like a leghorn.

2nd Traveller:     Doctor John Dee

 The mathematician, philosopher, map-maker and astrologer to Queen Elizabeth, Dr. John Dee travelled to Cracow in Poland. He detailed his observations in his book, “A true and faithful relation: John Dee”

He records both the old style of dates and the new style in Gregorian calendar. In his time, he was map maker. Map making had become science and the map were considered as sources by which whole civilizations could be conquered.  

3rd Traveller:      Fynes Morrison

He was a student of Cambridge, who took voyage in 1591. He detailed his observations as

He has given the details of visited cultures about

  • What people wore
  • What people wore
  • The food they eat
  • Their courtship and marriage proves practises
  • Punishments and countless other details

Now, take a break and think for a while, what these travellers have recorded in their works. Let’s have a quick analysis of the recordings of two travellers, Dee versus Morrison.

Comparing the Traveller’s tales;                               Dee versus Morrison

  • Their accounts are different in tone, content and intent.
  • They wanted to record their encounters with spirits, with geographical data secondary. And Morrison recorded a random collection of stories, experiences and images.
  • Dee’s account of his journey is conditioned by his experience as map maker while Morrison is out on a kind of quest. He wandered through the world with adventures.
  • Dee’s narrative is presented as a series of notes and jottings while Morrison is crafted the whole story with a dominant “I” speaker pausing to preach, to patronise and to give advice to inexperienced.

Moreover, Susan has given the details about such kind of writers in her book as.

Tacitus, a scholar, wrote about the women of his native country, Germany that German women were used to live chastity that is impregnable and uncorrupted by the temptations of public shows. Their love affairs are unknown to men and women alike. Here he praised the women of his native land. In addition, the Germen culture is described as civilized culture.

Another writer, E. W. Lane, translator of Arabian Nights, wrote about the women of Egypt as, “the women of Egypt are most licentious in their feelings. They have liberty with abusive relations. The women are not considered safe. Men keep their women under lock and key”

Here, the women of other country, like Egypt, are described as uncivilized.


In comparative study, an examination of the varied texts produced by travellers, shows how prejudices, stereotypes and negative perceptions of other cultures can be handed down through generations. In the above discussion, the detail about the women of Egypt and German shows that how a culture consider another culture and build a perspective about it. So, this is a glimpse of constructing a culture.

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