Knowledge about the ›Orient‹ between voice and scripture - Michel de Certeau and the Royal Danish Expedition to Arabia Felix (1761–1767)


  • Mirjam Hähnle Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology



Using Carsten Niebuhr’s travelogues of the Royal Danish Expedition to Arabia (1761-67) as an example, this article reflects on the possibilities to examine knowledge that was produced during early modern expeditions to the Middle East. It tries to answer questions of how to read European archives in a critical way and how to deal with (local) actors who were erased of the record. Thereby, it questions current literature that describes the encounter between European scholars and Asian cultures as pre-colonial and therefore non-Eurocentric.

Michel de Certeau’s dualistic approach that demonstrates epistemological dominance in knowledge production, but also attempts to create limited agencies for those who have been excluded by this knowledge, serves as a guideline for reading Niebuhr’s travelogues. The first chapter asks how the voices of the other were transformed into European scripture in the Royal Danish Expedition. After that, the potential of local voices to disturb European scripture will be an issue. Finally, knowledge gained in the field will be described as a product of various forms of spatial appropriation.