Asked about Mongolia, the average person knows only about the world empire built by Genghis Khan. Recent visitors to Mongolia hear about the 1990 democratic transition, how the previous Communist regime had been installed by the Red Army in 1921, and how the Buddhist clergy which had ruled the country after independence from China in 1911 was destroyed in the 1930s. But what happened in between the fall of the Mongol empire in 1368 and the restoration of Mongolian independence in 1911? This class "fills in the gaps" in the common knowledge of Mongolia.
In fact traditional Mongolia was made in these "Middle Ages." The "Second Conversion" to Buddhism after 1575, the aristocratic society established under Batu-Möngke Dayan Khan (c. 1480-1517), and Manchu-Chinese rule in Mongolia formed the ancien regime against which twentieth-century revolutionaries revolted. Likewise, Buriats and Kalmyks were profoundly transformed by Russian rule from 1605 to 1771. Mongolia’s traditions of epics, oral poetry, and folk tales assumed their modern form from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. The great Oirat confederacies, first of Esen who captured the Chinese emperor in 1449, and then of the seventeenth-eighteenth century Zunghars, Kalmyks, and the Upper Mongols, first rose to dominate Inner Asia from Tibet to Crimea but then were virtually destroyed by foreign attacks and insurrections of their former Kazakh and Tibetan subjects. Mongolia’s Middle Ages treats all of these topics and more in a combination of lecture and discussion.