Travelers and Explorers in Central Asia
This course carries Social and Historical Studies (CASE S&H) Breath of Inquiry credit
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.