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U320/U520 The Discovery of Central Asia
Ron Sela

This course charts the discovery and exploration of Central Asia (from western China to north-eastern Iran) by its many visitors from the eighth through the nineteenth centuries. The numerous testimonies left by those visitors will serve as our point of departure for our own exploration of the history of this fascinating but under-studied region; a region which 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 ancient city of Samarkand, 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 primary sources: we will outline the development of the genre of travel literature among Arab explorers and geographers, Persian philosophers, Jewish rabbis, and Christian missionaries. We shall also read accounts by European ambassadors, prisoners of war, and merchants in disguise. We will introduce the corpus of narratives left by Russian diplomats, envoys and adventurers, as they initiated their own excursions into the Central Asian steppes.

All the exciting narratives we encounter have been helping define the image of Central Asia in the world and in Central Asia proper until today, but did this image reflect the "true" history of the region?

We shall try to evaluate travel logs, diaries, memoirs, and mission reports as sources for the study of (Central Asian) history. We shall wonder whether there is any common ground between a modern-day historian and a medieval tourist, and introduce the potential unanimity and contrast between inside and outside sources.

It is irksome to be teased with old tales;
You had better tell only what you have yourself seen.
No mere hearsay, or antiquated fables,
Whatever the pilgrim tells you, is from his own observation.
(Abd al-Karim Kashmiri, 1740)

Note:  Enrollment in U320 open only to undergraduates.  Enrollment in U520 is limited to MA level graduate students.

Prerequisites: No prior knowledge of Central Asian history, or any of its languages is required. Course Requirements: Mid-term, Final, and one short assignment. Graduate students will write a term paper to be decided in consultation with the instructor.

Days and Time:  Monday and Wednesday, 2:30-3:45