Knowledge is Light: Travellers in the Near East, ed. Deborah Manley. Oxford and Oakville, ASTENE and Oxbow Books, paperback, 2011. 104pp.
ISBN 978-1-84217-448-7. £20.
As has been the case with the publication of previous papers from ASTENE conferences, the release of Knowledge is Light: Travellers in the Near East is a welcome moment for Association members and anyone interested in travellers in the region. The collection under review features nine papers delivered in Durham in 2009.
John Covel: a Levant Company Chaplain at Constantinople in the 1670s is a useful introduction to a man whose diaries Lucy Pollard rightly refers to as, “an extraordinary treasure-chest of evidence” of late Seventeenth century Asia Minor. Apart from their historical value, the human side of Covel’s diaries make them an entertaining read, from frustration over poor maps to the joys of scatological humour.
Depictions of Islam in Seventeenth-Century English Travel Accounts is an endlessly fascinating subject area, and this is an interesting survey. Through the use of numerous sources, Anders Ingrams has produced a short survey that not only highlights the points of commonality in anti-Islamic polemics but brings up the thoughts of those more independent travellers.
Peta Rée’s Saved by Pirates, which considers 16-months in the travels of Sir Richard Worsley, and Patricia Usick’s trawl through Willey Reveley’s account and drawings of the same journey makes for a wonderful pairing. Although not unique, having two detailed records of one journey, with Reveley employed as Worsley’s artist-in-motion, is a real treat.
James Rennell and his Scientific World of Observation is a welcome and lucid account of an all too often overlooked individual, and this paper is a treasure trove for researchers, not least because of its extensive bibliography. As Janet Starkey argues, Rennell is important for any number of reasons; his voluminous output should be first among these.
Death and Resurrection by Geoffrey Nash looks at Ernest Renan, in part through the lens of the death of his beloved sister and the impact this may have had on his writing, not least his controversial Life of Jesus.
Knowledge is Light concludes with John Chapman’s fascinating consideration of the penchant among many male travellers to Greece for dressing up in fustanella, that traditional Albanian costume most famous for its prominent skirts. Men in Skirts and How to Become Frank is valuable not just for highlighting the keenness for dressing up among western men, from Byron to Wilde, but also the political nature of the fustanella, and the move away from wearing it to the far less dashing, “Frankish” trousers.
The two essays that highlight the joy of ASTENE are A Journey Through the Holy Land, 1820, about the Reverend Robert Master and companions, by Deborah Manley, and Theodore Ralli’s Diary on his Travel to Mount Athos (1885), by Maria-Mirka Palioura. Both accounts deal with familiar places but, thanks to the researchers, this reviewer saw them through the eyes of previously unknown travellers, thus allowing one to see the familiar as though for the first time. There can be no better summary of ASTENE than Knowledge is Light.