Society in 15th century Europe was becoming economically inclusive within itself and other parts of the world, however, people in Europe still viewed outsiders as “the Other” and local laws and sentiments excluded strangers not familiar to social localities. Europeans did not think of themselves as belonging to the same groups and even between cities or towns near each other locals were slow to trust outsiders. The following three examples of Early European history father elaborate Europe’s relationship with the Other.

The Popular Adventures of Marco Polo

Europe was fascinated with other parts of the world and we can look towards the popularity of Marco Polo’s accounts of China as proof. Copied and translated into many languages, Marco Polo’s adventures were widely read and even though the legitimacy of these stories are questioned by historians “The real importance of the text is what it says about Europe. Here we see the beginnings of an effort to collect information on other parts of the world – however inaccurate to begin with – and a clear interest in the wealth that might be found and made there.” as historian Paul Halsall points out.[1]

Marco Polo described Chinese society as both luxurious and foreign, as for example, he presented the people of the Chinese city of Kinsay (modern day Hangchow) as “Both men and women are fair and comely, and for the most part clothe themselves in silk, so vast is the supply of that material, both from the whole district of Kinsay, and from the imports by traders from other provinces. And you must know they eat every kind of flesh, even that of dogs and other unclean beasts, which nothing would induce a Christian to eat.”[2]


“I did not tell half of what I saw, for I knew I would not be believed”
― Marco Polo

European Craft Guilds

European societies favored possible trade with the outside world, but local economies were designed to control production and trade and provide steady employment for members of the craft guilds and its workers. Historian Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks writes, “Craft guilds had first developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; they organized the production and sale of a particular product, regulating the hours that could be worked, the number of workers in a shop, the amount of raw materials any shop could obtain, the quality standards required in finished products, and so on.”[3]

Local craft guilds were abrasive towards outsiders as a document “Ordinance of the Spurriers’ (Spurmakers’) Guild of London, England 1345” shows as it entails rules for the employment of “aliens” and fines for their inclusion. It says “Also, that no alien of another country, or foreigner of this country, shall follow or use the said trade, unless he is enfranchised before the mayor, aldermen, and chamberlain; and that, by witness and surety of the good folk of the said trade, who will go surety for him, as to his loyalty and his good behavior.” [4]


The craft guilds of early modern Europe foreshadowed the Industrial Revolution and Capitalism

Early European Universities

Another example of the medley of Europe’s inclusive and exclusive traits can be found in early universities. Renaissance Humanist ideas transformed education in Europe and cities who founded universities benefited from those students who traveled across Europe to achieve an education. Members of a communities wished for students to travel from afar as is shown in a 1442 petition to duke of Este lobbying his support for the establishment of a university in Farrara, Italy. The petitioners say, “For, to begin with its utility, strangers will flock hither from various remote regions, and many scholars will stay here, live upon our bread and wine, and purchase of us clothing and other necessities for human existence, will leave their money in the city and not depart hence without great gain to all of us.”[5]

However, while universities enhanced early European cities’ prestige and economies, the presence of foreigners was met with tribalism from native scholars who soon developed stereotypes about other Europeans. Jacque de Virty, a Parisian church official and historian, was critical of Paris universities in 1225 and formed opinions about other peoples of Europe from the scholars who traveled to Europe. He wrote that “English were drunkards and had tails”, “Germans were furious and obscene at their feasts”, and “the Romans, [were] seditious, turbulent, and slanderous.”[6] Such perceptions show that Europe was increasingly becoming more cosmopolitan and Europeans were ever more aware of each other’s existence.


The structure of our current Liberal Arts education system is inherited directly from early European universities and Humanism


[1] Halsall, Paul. Medieval Sourcebook: Marco Polo: The Glories Of Kinsay [Hangchow] (c. 1300). Fordham University, March 1996. Retrieved from

[2] Ibid.

[3] Merry E Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, 2nd ed, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 44.

[4] Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, vol. 2, no. 3 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, no date), pp. 19‐21.

[5] Merry E Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, 2nd ed, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 36.

[6] Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, vol. 2, no. 3 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, no date), pp. 19‐21