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World history

World history
Statement of Theme:
A key characteristic of post-Classical societies was increasing contact between increasingly
distant regions. Throughout the period, however, many people still knew very little about the
lives of others who lived far away. For example, while Western Europeans realized by the 1240s
that the Mongols (or, as they called them, the “Tartars”) represented a grave threat to their own
society, they had little idea how the Mongols lived, where they came from, or what they wanted.
We are lucky, however, to have the reports of observers like the European monk Giovanni
DiPlano Carpini (born ~1182 CE, died 1252). Such reports provide us with important testimony
about post-Classical societies (like the Mongols’), but they also reveal the priorities and
expectations of the observers who wrote them. Because of this, we can use Carpini’s writings to
understand both the Mongols and the Europeans of this era.
Essay Issues:
You should write an essay that integrates your analysis of the issues below in a single coherent
discussion. You may choose to weight your analysis toward one issue in particular, but please be
sure to touch on all three.
1. Carpini describes many different aspects of Mongol life and politics in the The Story of the
Mongols Whom We Call the Tartars, but not with equal attention. In your judgment, what feature
of Mongol society was Carpini most interested in? Taking that feature, analyze Carpini’s
description and explain what he was telling his readers.
2. In light of your analysis in part 1, explain what Carpini’s book can tell us about Carpini and
the Western European medieval society he was part of. In your judgment did Carpini really
understand the Mongols, or was he (partly) blinded by his own preconceptions and priorities?
Should we trust his account?
3. What can modern readers (you and I) conclude about the Mongols from all of Carpini’s
description? Does Mongol society fit into the picture of ‘post-Classical societies’ that we have
been developing, or do they require us to rethink the importance of contact and the nature of
relationships between societies in this period?

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