Primary Source Analysis 2 / Chapter 7: Travelers’ Tales and Observations (Sources 7.1 / 7.2)
What are the advantages and limitations for historians in drawing on the writings of foreign observers?
Xuanzang was a highly educated Buddhist monk from China, who in 629 C.E. made the long and treacherous journey along the Silk Road to India. His main objectives in his sixteen years away from home were fundamentally religious; he only wanted to study more complete scriptures to answer questions he had, which he deemed unsolvable in his own country. It is important to understand Xuanzang’s own position within the Chinese society and the type of situation it was in: Chinese Buddhists had many disagreements which created a serious division within their communities in China.
Marco Polo also traveled along the Silk Road, making the tremendous journey across Eurasia in order to reach China at just seventeen years old. After receiving a job in a minor administrative position for the Mongol ruler, Marco Polo stayed in China for another seventeen years. Throughout this time he wildly traveled across the Chinese land and collected stories about his experiences in the foreign country. His book, The Travels of Marco Polo helped to shape Western European culture, though scholars question the legitimacy behind his stories since he left out many prominent features of the Chinese life.
Through examining these texts, it is evident that the advantages historians have when drawing on evidence such as this is that they can easily reveal certain social and cultural values of the society from which the authors came from, just as easily as it shows social and cultural values of the society of which it was w...
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...l, from examining these two primary sources written by Xuanzang of China and Marco Polo of northern Italy, we can gain insight to some advantages historians have when collecting written evidence and the limitations they might have when viewing it. By looking the first primary source, we can see that the advantages are: the written evidence can easily tell us the cultural values of the society in which the author came from. In this example, a huge cultural value was that of the religion Buddhism and the amount of variations drawn from different places. When viewing the second primary source, we can see that some limitations historians have are: omitted information from the author or misinterpreted cultural values. This primary source analysis proves that there are many ways to perceive a written document and not all theories drawn from them are correct or incorrect.
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