Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On the Travelogue

A map of Marco Polo and Ibn Batutta's routes through the Old World

The Significance of the Travelogue

It seems as inevitable that voyaging should make men free in their minds as that settlement within a narrow horizon should make men timid and servile. HG Wells, 1922
The first men were wanderers and their lives, if brutish and short, were a journey too, marked by constant movement and discovery. Unsettled and unencumbered, early man explored the globe. He left Africa 70,000 years ago. Thirty thousand years later, he reached Australia, and by the time a new man – the farmer – was sowing the Fertile Crescent’s first crops, the wanderer was navigating the Amazon River in a dugout canoe.

Agriculture brought settlement, cities and, six or seven thousand years ago, writing. Although man first wrote to keep account books, by 2600 BCE he was starting to inscribe his people’s tales in clay and stone, giving a stable, solid structure to narratives told loosely by earlier men. Writing made final what had been fluid before, which suited man’s new stability and the growing scale of his society, and like everybody who has sought a place in the world since, the first writers were primarily concerned with explaining their origins.