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Travelers and Explorers in Central Asia
CEUS-R 311/511
Ron Sela

This course carries CASE S&H designation

This course charts the discovery and exploration of Central Asia (from western China to northeastern Iran) by its many visitors – adventurers, pilgrims, geographers, missionaries, merchants in disguise, diplomats and prisoners of war – from the eighth through the nineteenth centuries. The numerous testimonies left by those visitors will serve as a point of departure for our own exploration of the history of this fascinating but under-studied region, a region that had witnessed, among other things, the unique merger of cultures (Arab, Persian, Turkic, Chinese, Mongol, and Russian), the Arab conquest of an ancient Persian civilization, the Jewish Khazar state, the Mongol hordes under Chinggis Khan, the rule of Timur (Tamerlane) over a vast Kingdom centered in the fabled city of Samarqand, the nomadic invasions of the 16th Century, the rise of the Tribal Dynasties of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the expansion of the Russian Empire. The course focuses on reading primary sources (in the original English or translated from Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Turkish, Latin, German and Russian) which, in addition to underscoring Central Asia's pivotal role as a crossroads of civilizations, will also allow us to evaluate travel logs, diaries, memoirs, and mission reports as sources for the study of (Central Asian) history. We will wonder about the common grounds that modern-day historians and medieval tourists may share and also introduce the potential unanimity and contrast between inside and outside sources.



Course Mechanics

The first couple of weeks will be devoted to briefly acquaint students with Central Asia’s unique history and geography and will also include one lecture on the nature of the sources we will engage in the course. Following, almost every week will be divided. On Mondays we will survey the history of the relevant period, as well as give some introduction to its travelers. The Monday lectures will serve, hopefully, as a useful setting for our Wednesday discussions, when we analyze the primary sources, their particularities, and what we can learn from them. On Wednesdays students are expected to bring the relevant texts (which they have read before the class!) with them and contribute to the discussion.

Requirements

Readings

The following books, on reserve at the Main Library & in the RIFIAS (Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, Goodbody 144), will serve as historical background reading:

Some of the readings may be found on-line (see below), others will be distributed in class.