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U320 The Silk Road:  Life in Modern Central Asia
William King

        Long before the European age of exploration began in the late 15th century Europe and the Mediterranean world had an interest in the products of Asia.  In the late 14th century, for example, stories of the Venetian Marco Polo's travels in Central Asia and China fueled the desires of merchants to explore those markets.  But the Occident had been interested in Asia's marvelous products since Classical times and even earlier.  One of the more storied aspects of this commerce is the overland trade through Central Asia, which came to be called the Silk Road in the 19th century. Today the expression designates a world of exotica, even as mention of places visited by explorers and merchants did in the minds of their contemporaries.  With such activity passing through it, Central Asia became a complex area where many different cultures co-existed and mingled.

        This course is an investigation of the Silk Road in Central Asia and its role in the pre-modern world.  It aims to elucidate the ancient connections between Central Asia and the course of world history through a consideration of the commerce of the Silk Road from ancient to medieval times.  It is arranged chronologically, and covers the geography and history necessary to understand the intercultural contacts which occurred throughout Eurasia in its relations with Central Asia.  Primary source texts in translation will be read for almost all periods considered. Aspects of contacts to be considered will include the arts and religion in addition to material culture.  We will consider what made Central Asia so important at that time, and speculate on how history has developed since.

        This course should appeal to those interested in the history of Central Asia, and to those seeking background for contemporary Central Asia as well.  Students interested in medieval studies, East Asia and the Near East should also find it particularly interesting.

No prerequisites.  Midterm and final exams and a short book review as a paper.

Days and Time:  Tuesday and Thursday, 2:30-3:45.