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Is the author the traveler or a ghost writer? Travelers writing their own accounts have perhaps been able to represent their own observations and experiences better than ghost writers, but travelers have been subject to their own biases and have often sought to portray themselves in flattering light. Ghost writers have sometimes enabled travelers with limited literary skill to produce accounts of their experiences: Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta both relied heavily on the services of ghost writers. It is likely that ghost writers improved the readability of many travel accounts. Yet it is clear that they sometimes introduced their own views into travel accounts. Rustichello da Pisa, the ghost writer who composed Marco Polo’s travel account, drew on his own earlier writings to flesh out Marco’s own descriptions of his experiences.


More broadly, what is the author’s perspective? Does it make a difference if the author is male or female? young or old? And what is the relationship between the author and the land(s) described in the travel account? Does the author possess deep understanding of the land(s) and people(s) under discussion, or only superficial acquaintance? To what extent do the author’s religious or cultural commitments shape the travel account? Answers to these questions might point in surprising directions, but in combination they contribute to the evaluation of travel accounts. As an example, consider the case of the 11th-century astronomer al-Biruni, a native of Iran who spent about 10 years in India as an official at the court of a Turkish conqueror. During his extended visit, al-Biruni became deeply familiar with Indian society and cultural traditions. He found much to admire in Indian science, mathematics, and philosophy, but as a devout Muslim he despised Hinduism and Indian customs that violated Islamic law and practice. Thus al-Biruni’s travel account reveals as much about the author himself as it does about the land and people he visited.

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