Guest Speaker: “Kublai Khan’s Body: Marco Polo and the Making of History”, Margaret Kim (National Tsing Hua University)
Marco Polo and his father and uncle spent seventeen years in China, and because of his personal history there, Sinologists have long scrutinized and debated his connection to the larger history of China and his status as a historical writer of China. In response to biographical discussions about Polo in Sinology, this talk investigates the way history informs the study of Le Devisement du monde. I compare Polo’s work to Chinese historiography, a genre centered on the theorization of political authority and the body politic. While Medievalists locate Polo in the European Middle Ages as a Christian European who made observations about the other, I suggest that Polo identifies with the Mongol empire and his narrative ambition is to project the magnificence of the Great Khan. Polo’s connections to the material history of the lands of Asia are significant for understanding the conditions of the authorship of the Devisement. Moreover, the portrayal of Kublai Khan as the embodiment of imperium in the Devisement, my analysis shows, centers Polo’s vision of history and its forward drive. While Marco Polo as a famous figure of travel and adventure straddles the continents and crosses national boundaries, scholarly conversations on the man and his work reflect disciplinary divides and assumptions about national and cultural identity behind such divides. My talk engages the divides on the study of Marco Polo as a way to imagine history that is at once personal and global in the Devisement.