The University of Southampton

ENGL2083 Tales of Travel c.1000-1650: Idylls, Utopias, Monsters, and Cannibals

Module Overview

European narratives of travel and journeying between c. 1000 and 1650 reflect a period of great religious, cultural, economic and geographical change. In this module, you will explore the historical, political, cultural and imaginative roles of travel and journeying during this turbulent period. We will explore the ways in which encounters with other cultures and civilisations are reported, understood, and justified through narratives real and imagined. The module will uncover some of the diverse varieties of social, political and cultural work performed by narratives of journeys: to strengthen faith; to critique aspects of one's own culture; to construct or sustain a sense of religious, social or gendered identity; to stake a territorial claim or to expand or develop trading networks or diplomatic links. We will also focus in particular on English reports of travels within a period of nation and empire-building, and trace the changing representation of the figure of the traveller over the course of the period. Via online resources such as Early English Books Online (EEBO), there will be the opportunity to read travellers' tales in their original published forms.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• introduce you to a variety of writings that deal with the conceptualization and experience of travel in the expanding medieval and early modern world, • introduce you to a range of recent historical, critical and theoretical approaches to the study of travel writing in the medieval and Renaissance periods, • expand your knowledge and understanding of the specific historical, social and cultural conditions in which medieval and Renaissance literatures of travel and exploration were produced and read, • equip you to develop your own appropriate critical approaches to the literature of travel and to develop and pursue your own research interests, • explore the ways discourses of ‘race’, class, gender, religion, nationality, sexuality, and monstrosity (physical or behavioural) are implicated in the processes of encounter, conquest and colonization, • develop your capabilities in research with on-line primary source collections.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • be familiar with a range of narratives, descriptions and imaginative engagements with travels, from a variety of genres and about a variety of real and imagined spaces,
  • be able to explain the relationships between the literature of travel and concepts and phenomena such as allegory, pilgrimage, mission, exploration, discovery, trade, national identity and mythography, colonialism, ethnology, and map-making,
  • understand how historical and cultural forces both shape and are shaped by travel writing,
  • be able to discuss the interplay between the discourses of ‘race’, religion, nationality, class, sexuality, gender and/or monstrosity and those of exploration and encounter,
  • be able to explain and engage independently with relevant aspects of recent critical and/or theoretical debates about the texts studied and the issues raised in the module,
  • be able to effectively use a range of library holdings, including physical and electronic resources and online primary source collections,
  • be able to discuss complex issues using varied source material to illustrate and support your ideas, both orally and in writing.


The module focusses on medieval and renaissance tales of travel in equal depth. The precise syllabus and texts for study may vary from year to year, but will include English and other European accounts of allegorical and otherworldly journeys, narratives of pilgrimage, reports of religious, diplomatic, mercantile and military missions, descriptions of conquest and colonization, and accounts of explorations in known, unknown and imagined worlds in poetry, prose, and drama. Through these texts, we will explore the following themes: Journeying in the Middle Ages: Paradigms and Archetypes The Marvellous and Monstrous West: Imagination and Conquest in the Middle Ages Medieval Visions of the East: Imagination and the Shock of Encounter Voyage of the Body, Journey of the Soul? Pilgrims and Pilgrimage in the later Middle Ages American Encounters First Fictions of the New World English Ambitions for Empire America and the Black Legend The Tempest and its Travels Monstrous Appetites in Renaissance Drama An indicative list of primary readings is given under ‘Resources’

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include o weekly seminars (2 hrs) o weekly lectures (2 hrs) o individual consultations Learning activities include o taking notes in lectures and seminars o individual study and research o contributing to seminar discussions o writing reflective reports on seminar activities o working as part of a group

Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Follow-up work24
Completion of assessment task60
Wider reading or practice24
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Christopher Columbus (1992). The Four Voyages, trans. by J. M. Cohen. 

Richard Hakluyt (1589). The Principall Navigations. 

‘Mundus Novus’, trans. by G. Northrup, in Travel Narratives from the Age of Discovery, ed. by Peter Mancall. 

William Shakespeare (1999). The Tempest, ed. by Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan. 

The Voyage Of St Brendan, ed. and trans. by W. R. J. Barron and Glyn S. Burgess. 

John Fletcher (1995). The Sea Voyage, in Three Renaissance Travel Plays, ed. by Antony Parr. 

Thomas More (1999). Utopia, in Three Early Modern Utopias: Sir Thomas More's "Utopia", Francis Bacon's "New Atlantis", Henry Neville's "Isle of Pines", ed. with introduction and notes by Susan Bruce. 

Gerald of Wales (1983). The Topography of Ireland, trans. by John O’Meara. 

Walter Raleigh (2006). Discoverie of Guiana. 

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, trans. by C. R. Moseley. 

Marco Polo (1958). Travels, trans. by R.E. Latham. 

The Land of Cockaygne in The Land of Cockaygne in Angela M. Lucas, ed., Anglo-Irish Poems of the Middle Ages (Blackrock: Columba Press 1995) and trans. by Bella Millett at Wessex Parallel Web Texts.



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 45%
Report  (2000 words) 15%
Take-away exam  (2500 words) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Students will need to have personal copies of key module texts. The total cost of these (not covered by the programme) will not exceed £30.

Printing and Photocopying Costs

Students may wish to print out online texts at their own cost, though it is acceptable to work with these online.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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