Materials for Teacher Workshop on the Silk Road
Materials for Teacher Workshop on the Silk Road sponsored by the Jackson School of International Studies/Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies (REECAS) program at the University of Washington and the World Affairs Council, January 14, 1999. Updated material is also listed at the Silk Road Seattle site.
The Silk Road is widely understood to have been the overland trade route from China to the Mediterranean, opened first in the 2nd-century B.C.E. and coming to an end between the 15th and 17th centuries C.E. due to a variety of political and economic changes. The traditional discussions of the Silk Road do recognize that there were branches of it which went into South Asia or extended from Central Asia north of the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. Yet too often even those who recognize the full extent of the route(s) confine their discussions of it to that which is today within China. Also, it is clear that many of the activities characteristic of the "Silk Road" in its heyday continued beyond the 17th century. In the context of the economic development of Central Asia today, there is a lot of talk about a modern revival of the Silk Road. However inaccurate that may be, it may provide a hook for developing students interest in the earlier history.
Here are some annotated suggestions about materials that might be useful to supplement teaching units on the "Silk Road." My current thinking about the "Silk Road" is broadly multi cultural and multi-disciplinary. If one of our concerns as educators is to stimulate our students to think about the way cultures develop and interact, then to study economic and cultural exchange across Eurasia for, say, nearly two millennia, offers wonderful opportunities to cut across textbook conventions that divide the world in ways that do not always make sense in terms of its physical or human geography and its history. You should be warned, however, that I am only beginning to teach the Silk Road (my new course on the subject will be offered the first time in spring 1999), and my teaching experience is only at the University of Washington, not in middle school. At best then, we might consider some of these recommendations to be untested ideas and materials for further discussion. What can actually work in your classroom is something I can only guess.
I have looked through the textbooks that you are using (Boehm, Glencoe World Geography, and the Silver Burdett Ginn, The World and Its People) and also am somewhat familiar with the World History guidelines produced by the controversial NEH-funded initiative a few years ago. My impression is that all these materials provide an excellent base for almost anything one might want to do with the Silk Road. However, both of your textbooks have perhaps unavoidable features which divide what I might term "the world of the Silk Road" in ways that obscure the "connectedness" that the concept offers both in terms of its geographical/cultural and chronological sweep. Unfortunately, the geography book divides the world up to a considerable degree according modern political concerns--for our purposes, this is most evident in the treatment of "Russia and the Eurasian Republics." There the framework is still the old Soviet-era, Cold-War one, even though, if one were to take, say, Uzbekistan, historically to connect the area with the Middle East makes a lot more sense. In the social studies text, the "isolating" factor is more the chronology of empire or state. One thing I think we would want to emphasize is that the patterns of interaction along the Silk Road are largely independent of any particular political formation at a particular moment. One of the great virtues of the social studies text is its abundant maps, in particular those that show trade routes and routes of famous travelers. It strikes me that the travelers may offer particularly good opportunities for introducing students to key issues involving the Silk Road.
It is probably no accident that Ross Dunn, who was involved in the NEH project, has a particular interest in the famous Arab traveler, Ibn Batutta, who roamed the world from the Atlantic, across northern Africa, through Eastern Europe and the Middle East to Central Asia, India, and apparently China. One of the valuable fruits of that project is Ross Dunn and David Vigilante, eds., Bring History Alive! A Sourcebook for Teaching World History (National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA). They make a conscious effort to transcend some of the conventional "smaller" divisions of subject matter. Each section of the book contains an overview essay and then suggestions about specific assignments appropriate to various grade levels.
The material which follows here is divided into an introduction on general resources and sections corresponding to the topical divisions of our workshop: physical/human geography; cities and trade; religions. Presumably in all three cases, you will be provided with additional recommendations by Dr. Engelmann and on the Web site being created by JSIS-REECAS specifically for this workshop http://depts.washington.edu/reecas/outreach/silklink.htm.
I. General Resources.
It is possible that the best, in-print introduction to the Silk Road is Xinru Liu, The Silk Road: Overland Trade and Cultural Interactions in Eurasia (American Historical Association, 1998; Essays on Global and Comparative History Series, 56 pp.; ISBN 0-87229-106-5). This can be ordered from the AHA; see their web site, http://www.theaha.org/pubs/pubspage.html. I have not yet seen this booklet but have read two earlier scholarly books by the same author, a Chinese scholar who received an American Ph.D. Her earlier books (Ancient India and Ancient China: Trade and Religious Exchanges AD 1-600, and Silk and Religion: An Exploration of Material Life and the Thought of People AD 600-1200--both published in paper back by Oxford UP (Delhi)) emphasize the way that the exchange of material goods such as silk and precious stones was facilitated by religious exchange and needs. Silk and Religion is the more general and more accessible of the two volumes; it gives a good idea of the importance of silk in the West in the early Middle Ages as well as the patterns of production and distribution of silk in the Middle East.
Among older works no longer in print, see Irene M. Franck and David M. Brownstone, The Silk Road: A History (Facts on File, 1986). Although I have not looked at it yet, I am told that Luce Boulnois, The Silk Road (Dutton, 1966) is also a good introduction.
On broad issues of trade, see Philip D. Curtain, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984, PB). Curtain is an Africanist, but he ranges from the Americas all the way around the world in this book; it is very useful for providing inter-regional perspectives. Accessible reading, helpful bibliography.
Also very stimulating is Stephen Frederic Dale, Indian Merchants and Eurasian Trade, 1600-1750 (Cambridge UP, 1994). Although quite specialized, the book is valuable as an example of the new approaches to study of indigenous Asian merchant communities, which in the older literature tended to be denigrated by comparisons with the European merchant houses which emerged during the "Age of Discovery."
There is a very useful CD-ROM, which may be borrowed from REECAS, The Silk Road: Digital Journey, produced by Marek Gronowski (DNA Multimedia Corporation, 1760 West 2nd Ave. Vancouver, B.C. V6J 1H6, Canada, tel. 1-604-736-8783; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Works on both Windows and Mac). What follows is an extract from a review I wrote for the REECAS Newsletter a couple of years ago:
...Since it has been designed with pedagogical goals in mind, The Silk Road is an excellent resource for a range of class levels. It is sophisticated enough so that it could be used even for a college class, although it is probably intended for middle or high school students. There are numerous good photographs, music clips, samples of phrases in various languages, maps with animated drawings of routes and directions of influence and more. The explanations of major religions and ethnic groups are sound and pack a lot in a short space; one can learn quite a bit about history and exploration. The publisher even offers an internet site where one can access related materials of rather limited scope (the idea is promising).
Main selections are done at "The Market," where for the basic journey, one can begin with a slide show and accompanying commentary following the route from Xian in China to Rawalpindi in Pakistan. There are occasional glitches, where comment does not match image. Marco Polo is erroneously placed in the 12th century; a mention of K-2 is accompanied by a photo of Rakaposhi; the importance of the recent ethnic changes in Xinjiang is obscured by a misleading comment about Chinese being a small minority in Kashgar. The slide show would have been better had more historical information been incorporated into it.
For history, one searches under a separate rubric, and the information is rather fragmented. The timelines are pretty sketchy too, but enough material is provided so that a user could pull together a reasonably clear historical sequence of important events. At many points one can click on hypertext connections to learn about important individuals; the interactive maps allow the user to select two countries or regions and bring up immediately a listing of products that went between them.
There are various quiz questions for review along the way, and at "the university" one can attempt to pass tests in five main categories of knowledge in order to obtain the key to the Cave of Knowledge. There no pot of gold awaits; the message presumably is that the reward is what one learned to gain admittance.
There is one unfortunate bias in the coverage of the disk--only the eastern half of the Silk Road is represented; very little intimates about its extension the rest of the way west to the Mediterranean world. Even within the region covered, there is too little sense of the complexity and multiplicity of routes. To follow it south along the modern Karakoram Highway into Pakistan, for example, obscures the fact that this particular route was never the most important one to the sub-continent until modern times. Perhaps the limitation was imposed by the amount of information that could be compressed on the one disk; a complementary one for the western half of the Silk Road would be in order.
While the Silk Road CD-ROM and Microsoft's products such as Encarta contain some elementary phrases pronounced in various languages, one can access a lot more language material through links provided at the National K-12 Foreign Language Resource Center, Iowa State University <http://www.educ.iastate.edu/nflrc/flsource.htm> and from a travelers's language site < http://www.travlang.com:80/languages/> (dozens of them, arranged as a "phrasebook" for travelers; included are languages of the Silk Road). A good kind of exercise to do with students might involve the issue of how people communicated on the Silk Road. Was there a common language? Could one transact trade not really knowing the trading partner's language? The SPICE unit on the Silk Road (see below) has an artificial language situation exercise, but why not work as well with real languages? The Silk Road (a six-part videotape series). A joint production of Japanese (NHK) and Chinese Television, first aired in 1990. Copy available to rent from UW Instructional Media collection (cataloged VC 1661-1666) http://www.washington.edu/classroom/emc/, (Box 353090 University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-3090, phone: (206) 543-9907); also, non-circulating copy in UW Bothell library (cataloged in the on-line UW library catalog). The substance of each film runs 50 minutes.
The series has stunning photography and very good narrative explanations. Occasionally it lapses into a kind of romantic excess of lovingly dwelling on one image while Kataro's electronic music plays (the soundtrack is available separately on two CDs, but by itself, it would not be very informative--New Age easy listening). The series has the immense virtue of providing wonderful footage of places that are very important but quite inaccessible to most of us. While the overall level of the production is fairly sophisticated, clearly portions of it could be used for pre-college classes. My appreciation of the films was conditioned by the fact that I have been reading a fair amount about the exploration and archaeological discoveries in the inner Asian regions of China; but this was the first time I had seen such extensive pictorial coverage of them.
Film 1. Glories of Ancient Chang'an. Focus on the city that is now called Xi'an, which was the capital of China under the Han, when the Silk Road first began, and the Tang (i.e., between about 2nd century B. C. E. and 9th century C. E.). Gives good background for rest of series; has interesting footage of the famous sculptured army of terra cotta warriors unearthed in modern times and the tombs of the various rulers. In this film as in others, a good mixture of a focus on the historical with a sense of the modern life in the region.
Film 2. A Thousand Kilometers Beyond the Yellow River. Has some stunning sequences of the irrigation system drawing water through giant water wheels; travel on rafts floated by inflated goat skins, and the Yu-gu pastoral nomads in the mountains.
Film 3. The Art Gallery in the Desert. Focuses on the famous Mogao caves at Dunhuang, which are indeed an art gallery of Buddhist art spanning centuries. Excellent closeups and sufficient analysis in a clear fashion to give some appreciation for the imagery and the changes in artistic style, reflecting the cultural exchange that took place on the Silk Road. It would have been valuable to have had more information on the treasure trove of manuscripts that the famous explorer Aurel Stein acquired at Dunhuang early in this century and took off to the British Library, although in several places the series shows photographs of what he discovered and items from other museum collections. [Note that the British Library is now putting all the Dunhuang materials up on the Web; for that project and some material that would be useful to supplement class texts, go to http://idp.bl.uk.
Film 4. The Dark Castle. Includes a good sequence illustrating facets of travel via camel caravan along the Silk Road. Focus is on the ruins of the fortress-city of Karakhoto (one of the centers of the Xixia or Tangut state that flourished in the region just prior to the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century), where the modern archaeological/film crew finds various artifacts including pieces of silk and written texts. This film would be quite appealing for younger students because it includes some dramatization of the semi-legendary events surrounding the conquest and destruction of Karakhoto by the armies of Chingiz Khan.
Film 5. In Search of the Kingdom of Lou-Lan. Introduces the region just east of the Taklamakan Desert--with striking shots of the terrain. Has an interesting segment on the way in which Lake Lop Nor has "moved" historically and the explanations why. Various archaeological objects--coins, Roman beads, written texts--showing the international connections of the kingdom that flourished here nearly 2000 years ago. One of most interesting segments shows the excavation of some tombs, with the uncovering of mummified bodies. [Additional information on the mummies can be found in materials posted on the Silk Road Foundation's web site; a recent NOVA program, for which a videotape can be purchased, was devoted to the subject.]
Film 6. Across the Taklamakan Desert. Again a good sense of the varied geography, both physical and human, including a tour of a provincial oasis town and its market. Information on the main population of the area, the Uighurs, with interesting filming of such things as the making of the characteristic flat bread that is a staple of their diet. Then follows along the route of the famous explorer Stein to visit the ruins of Miran and Niya, now well out in desert, but at one time located on rivers and centers of sophisticated administration, economic and religious life. One sees, among other things, the wooden beams of a large "palace." Some of pictures taken from the artifacts removed to museums by Stein and others, including the mummified bodies of a couple, the silk robe that one of them was wrapped in, and the various objects of daily life that had been buried with them. [On these mummies, see the March 1996 National Geographic.] Clear evidence of the international ties of the Silk Road cities, with both western and Chinese artistic influences.
Along the Silk Road: People, Interaction, and Cultural Exchange: A social studies unit recommended for grades 6-10. Developed by The China Project, Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE). 1993. Copy available to loan from REECAS outreach collection.
This provides ready-made lesson plans and supporting materials and has been tested by teachers in Bay Area schools. The eight-lesson unit is detailed in a 187 p. booklet that outlines and provides scripts for various activities--role playing games, interactive greeting exchanges, written exercises. There are maps and a few drawings that can be used to make overheads.
A portion of the book provides the complete text of the narration for a 37-minute video. The video itself is a major disappointment--containing a relatively small number of not terribly good still photographs and maps, with dumbed down commentary, and some questions at the end of each section that largely avoid focussing the students' attention on any content concerning the Silk Road. It is fine to use the unit as a way of teaching cultural exchange and differences, but the questions keyed to the video are more concerned with exploring personal feelings about almost anything but the Silk Road itself. Now that the CD-ROM is available (described above), it could easily be used in conjunction with the lesson plans outlined in the SPICE book and would represent a substantial improvement over what SPICE provided for visual material. Also, the CD-ROM offers a much wider and deeper range of information than even the SPICE book provides.
There is some recommended bibliography at the end of the SPICE book (half a dozen titles), but one wonders whether it would not be possible/desirable to venture farther, even for the suggested grade levels. I find it curious that the students learn a bit about some of the famous Chinese travelers and about Marco Polo, but there is little effort to have them read what those travelers wrote. Properly edited selections from them can be quite accessible, and they offer interesting opportunities for really stimulating critical thinking. (Note that the book by Dunn and Vigilante emphasizes in various places the importance of teaching critical thinking skills by using primary sources if students are really to understand something about history.)
SPICE does provide with the book a rather cleverly designed "Cross-Cultural Simulation" game entitled "Heelotia", which organizes the participants into two groups whose cultural values and communication are almost diametrically opposed. The goal of the simulation is to explore the possibilities and difficulties of cross-cultural communication, with the understanding being that the situations which arise might be similar to those that could have been encountered by merchants on the Silk Road. My only criticism of this is that perhaps instead of inventing imaginary peoples, the creators might have taken real peoples and real cultures and not tried to provide generic imaginary ones. As with some of the other material in the unit, the focus seems to be more on the generalizable topics that some might label as "politically correct" (i.e., raising cultural sensitivity) and perhaps too little on stimulating students to master a body of knowledge about real and important historic cultures. I agree with the perception of SPICE that a Silk Road topic is ideal for stimulating a discussion of cultural diversity issues (and those are, indeed, important in our teaching), but I would also like to see the Silk Road culture and history more appreciated for its own value. I think there is too much dumbing down of content here. Fortunately, there are enough other resources available to flesh out the substance that has a rightful place in such a unit.
To a considerable degree, modern Western knowledge of the Silk Road is due to the explorations that began in the late nineteenth century. While their activities remain controversial because they took away so many of the cultural artifacts, the great archaeologist/explorers did save much that would probably otherwise have been lost. Reading their accounts can be highly entertaining and instructive. An accessible introduction to the most famous of these explorers is Peter Hopkirk, Foreign Devils on the Silk Road (UMass. Pr., 1984). Among the explorers themselves, perhaps the most important was Sir Aurel Stein, whose popular account of his work is On Ancient Central Asian Tracks (UChicago Pr., 1974). Both books are available in paperback.
One of the obvious resources is the National Geographic Magazine. The March 1996 issue had an article on Xinjiang and a photo essay on the mummies excavated at Niya, one of the extinct Silk Road cities in the Taklamakan. However, it is not only the recent material that should be of value to your students. Back in the earlier part of this century, the Geographic ran some fascinating pieces based on travel in Eurasia, where the illustrations often capture aspects of the indigenous cultures that clearly have not changed in centuries--such things as pictures of the nomads and their yurts and carts; religious shrines. See, e.g., the Nov. 1928 issue, featuring Marco Polo. Another magazine that publishes lavishly illustrated articles, many of which are directly relevant to the Islamic end of the Silk Road, is Aramco World. I note that the Silk Road Foundation has linked some of these articles to its Web site (see below).
For modern photographs of cities, historic buildings, market scenes, and so on, a very valuable resource is the Cities/Buildings archive that is under development at the University of Washington. The coverage is worldwide, at present very uneven, but growing rapidly. So far, it includes only pictures and bare-bones identification, but gradually the material will be re-formatted to include some descriptive information. Of particular relevance for this workshop is the material on the Middle East (e.g., some excellent pictures of Istanbul, including famous buildings and the spices in the "Egyptian Market"; a few pictures from Iran), a lot of material for Khiva and Samarkand (some of the pictures will be shown at this workshop) in Uzbekistan, and the beginnings of valuable material for the Silk Road in China (eventually a lot of Kashgar market pictures will become available). There will also eventually be material on the herders in the Central Asian mountains. The archive is located at < http://www.washington.edu/ark2 >. Images are accessed by a country–city search involving scrolling down the list, or, if you know a particular building or name, by a "find" search through your internet browser.
One of the best sources for historic photographs of the Middle East is the Middle East Photograph Archive at the University of Chicago
When asked ahead of time what comes to mind if someone mentions "Silk Road," approximately half of you mentioned the difficulties posed by physical geography: Gobi, long difficult trek (sometimes mountainous), desert heat... Some of these geographical features provide a good way of connecting historic themes along the Silk Road with issues that are very relevant today. For example, the critical importance of water explains much historically and today too is the source of tensions. See, e.g., the article on water in the Middle East in National Geographic, May 1993. Ecological issues are important and can be connected with water scarcity--for example, the Aral Sea disaster. Life along the silk road is intimately connected with irrigation. Changes in climate have led to the disappearance of once flourishing centers when their water dried up. What is happening in the Aral Sea is similar example, but one where the human activity is the main reason for the disaster. It is worth keeping in mind that even in earlier times, as scholars are now discovering, the human impact on the environment--for example, leading to deforestation and all the consequences which follow from it--has often been very serious. We know that, precisely because they were aware of that danger, historically people in dry regions have tended to develop effective means to husband valuable water resources--for example, the network of underground channels for irrigation used in various parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. If anything, one of the problems of modern man is the tendency to ignore such positive examples on the assumption that technology can always compensate for the effects of population growth.
Another aspect of the geography of the Silk Road connects with what we might call the geopolitics of transportation. Political conflicts of earlier centuries at times involved precisely the issue of controlling the trade routes and often had the consequence of altering them. Concerns today over routes of oil pipelines (the subject is much in the news) are an extension of such historic concerns as to where the trade routes went.
One might wish to invert the emphasis on "problems" created by the geography of Eurasia and stress instead what there is which contributes to the kind of development and interaction we are studying. People did adapt to the geographic challenges (see above, regarding water); one could argue that travel along the silk road was not quite as difficult as we would imagine, spoiled as we are by the comforts and convenience of the modern world. We can pose some interesting questions about what sorts of specializations developed that made it all work, and about where we find the centers of economic and cultural activity, conditioned largely by geographic factors.
One issue that in particular might be emphasized is the interaction between nomadic and sedentary peoples, since the symbiotic relationship between them is one of the foundations of the silk road historically. The best introduction to the subject is Thomas Barfield, The Nomadic Alternative (Prentice-Hall, 1993; in PB). An anthropologist, Barfield covers different kinds of nomadism from Africa through the Middle East into Central Asia. A shorter overview, which I assume may be very good (in the same AHA series as the booklet by Xinru Liu cited above), is Peter B. Golden, Nomads and Sedentary Societies in Medieval Eurasia.
Given the arid conditions in much of the region that concerns us, a critical factor in the viability of the contacts across Eurasia has been the use of the camel. The standard book in English about the development of camel power is Richard Bulliet, The Camel and the Wheel (Harvard UP, 1977). Students might also have fun with the mystery novel he wrote under the pseudonym Clarence Brown, Kicked to Death by a Camel. Although the book is expensive and probably hard to come by, there would be some valuable information on the camel caravans and the loads they carried in Elfride Regina Knauer, The Camel's Load in Life and Death (Haeberlin, 1998). The book focuses in particular on the Tang-era statuary of camels (note there is a fine example in the Seattle Art Museum Asian art collection, along with some other excellent Chinese art relevant to Silk Road topics); among other subjects, it discusses the role of such statuary in religious beliefs.
III. Cities and Trade.
There are a number of threads that can easily be connected here. One relates to the issues mentioned above about sedentary/nomadic interaction. In particular there is much that can be done with perhaps the greatest of the "nomadic" empires, that of the Mongols, which developed in the early thirteenth century, peaked by the time of Kubilai Khan later in the same century, and whose "successor states" once or twice removed included the empires of Tamerlane (based in Samarkand) and the Mughal Empire (based in Delhi). The materials in the social studies textbook tend to obscure the importance of the fact that the Mongols did extend their power all the way across Eurasia; in fact they did much to encourage the kinds of economic and cultural interaction that had long been a feature of the Silk Road.
Probably the best introduction to the Mongols is that by a Persian specialist David O. Morgan, The Mongols (Blackwell, 1986; available in PB). Although none of these likely would be appropriate for your students, there are several accessible PBs that could be mined for more detailed information and ideas. On Kubilai Khan: Morris Rossabi, Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times (UCalif. Pr., 1988); on Tamerlane: Beatrice Forbes Manz, The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane (Cambr. UP, 1991); on the Mughals, John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire (Cambr. UP, 1995).
The Mongols can serve as a good focus partly because their story is "exciting" (not always for the right reasons, of course; one of the most disastrous potboilers of all time was a Hollywood production, full of ethnic stereotypes, starring John Wayne as the young Chingis Khan). It is easy to find materials such as videos (however, the quality is not great in the series I have seen). Recent National Geographic articles include "Genghis Khan" (Dec. 1996) and a follow up on his sons, "The Great Khans" (Feb. 1997). The emphasis in a lot of this, of course, is on the Mongols as conquerors and the Mongols as nomads, rather than on what happened once the dust cleared and they began to administer systematically and to borrow heavily from the cultures they conquered.
The availability of excellent primary source readings (that even middle school students could appreciate) is one of the great attractions of a unit that would focus on the Mongols and their successors. Best known is Marco Polo, for whom the Penguin PB of The Travels (translated by Latham) is the most accessible edition. Probably there is something that could be done to get students thinking by asking questions such as those posed by Frances Wood in her ballyhooed and over-rated Did Marco Polo Go to China? That is, how do we know what we read in such a source is true? What kinds of biases or limitations might explain what is there and what is not? And so on. Note the SPICE unit: Discovering Marco Polo: A Resource Guide for Teachers, publ. by The China Project, Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (Stanford, 1982). I have not gone back and looked at this to see whether it has been updated to take into account the discussion stimulated by Wood's book.
Perhaps less well known are the 13th-century monks, John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck, who traveled across Asia to the Mongols before they had moved their capital to China. Both are amazingly "objective," and Rubruck gives us a good picture of the Mongol capital and court. There are various editions, including Christopher Dawson, The Mongol Mission (alt., Mission to Asia), which is in PB. Although some of this might well be beyond middle-schoolers, the examples of Rubruck and Carpini raise interesting questions about the way in which education and purpose may shape a person's perception of another culture. It happens that precisely in the thirteenth century, in connection with some of the important intellectual developments in the middle ages, the Dominicans and Franciscans anticipated the Jesuits in their inquisitiveness about other cultures. One can do some interesting comparisons of attitudes between these two travelers on the one hand, and others such as Marco Polo, or Asian insiders like Juvaini (just below).
To give a different cultural perspective, one could select from Ata Malik Juvaini, History of the World Conqueror (re-issued in PB by UW Press as Genghis Khan: the History of the World Conqueror). He was a Persian official who, unhappily, found himself working for the Mongols. The text is a very good example of what a cultured Persian would write, including citations from the Koran and from the classics of Persian poetry.
The famous devout Arab traveler, Ibn Battuta, was featured in the National Geographic in December 1991. His itineraries are shown on maps in the social studies textbook. Ross Dunn, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta (UCalif. Pr., 1986) would provide a good overview. "This study...is a biography, an adventure story, and a study of human interchange in the 14th century. Recommended for teachers and students, grades 9-12." (Dunn and Vigilante, p. 305). For Ibn Batutta's own account, there are partial and full translations by Hamilton A. R. Gibb. The partial translation has been reprinted various times (e.g., Ibn Battuta, Travels ), and the full translation is three volumes in the Hakluyt Society series. Teachers interested in countless different travel accounts, many of which connect with the Silk Road, should keep the Hakluyt series in mind--it is the most important collection of translated travel accounts in English. Among the famous volumes were those edited by Sir Henry Yule, under the title Cathay and the Way Thither, which included a number of the accounts on the Eurasian trade. One of them of particular interest is that by a contemporary of Ibn Battuta's, the Florentine Pegolotti, who provides a lot of information on the markets in fourteenth-century Constantinople and the routes from there to the east.
Another of the important contemporary accounts, in this case for the beginning of the fifteenth century, is that by Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, a Spanish ambassador to the court of Tamerlane. Clavijo describes his journey all the way from Spain to Samarkand and back. He gives a particularly interesting account of Samarkand as a major commercial center. The English translation is by Guy le Strange, Clavijo. Embassy to Tamerlane 1403-1406 (Harper, 1928). Unfortunately, we do not have a convenient modern book on the history of Samarkand, which in itself encapsulates much of what is important about the Silk Road. However, for another of the famous Central Asian cities, there is Richard Frye, Bukhara: The Medieval Achievement (2nd ed., Mazda, 1997; PB). This provides a good idea of the importance of Iran and Islamic civilization in Central Asia. One can also consult with profit other books that Frye has written, such as The Heritage of Persia (reprinted 1993).
A valuable resource for the trade between Samarkand and other parts of Eurasia on the one hand and China on the other is Edward H. Schafer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand. A Study of Tang Exotics (UCalif., 1985; PB). This is not a book to try to read straight through, but it has wonderful examples of individual products, where he discusses their origin and then their importance in Chinese culture of the Tang period (early 7th century to early 10th century).
While some of my slides for this workshop will show the famous city of Kashgar, where the north and south branches of the Silk Road came back together at the western end of the Talkamakan desert in Xinjiang, at the minute I do not have a good reading to suggest on the history of Kashgar.
My illustrations for this workshop will focus on Buddhism, although obviously Islam is of immense importance and would have to be covered in any treatment of the Silk Road that gave appropriate emphasis to its middle and western sections. Buddhism is of particular interest in part because the subject can be used as a way to emphasize the multiplicity of Silk Roads. We are not just talking about east-west routes, but also important north-south routes. To study the spread of Buddhism gets into interesting questions about the interactions between South Asia and China and within China itself into questions of the way Buddhism and indigenous Chinese beliefs (Taoism and Confucianism) intersected. We are blessed with accounts by famous travelers to illustrated the spread of Buddhism as well as with stunning art.
The best introduction to Buddhism in China is that by Arthur F. Wright, Buddhism in Chinese History (Stanford UP, 1971; PB). A good selection of texts of Buddhist scriptures is Edward Conze, ed., Buddhist Scriptures (Penguin, 1959; PB). As with Islam, there is much material to be had on-line--explanations of beliefs as well as translations of scripture (this can be accessed via the Asian studies pages of the WWW Virtual Library). Although the book likely would be difficult to obtain, it is worth noting that the Chinese have issued a collection of translated Buddhist tales, Stories from Dun Huang Budd[h]ist Scripture (Gansu Children['s] Pub. House). Many are the so-called jataka tales, about Buddha in his earlier incarnations; they form the basis for illustrations in the cave paintings at Dunhuang.
The social studies textbook has maps which show the routes taken by two of the famous Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, Faxian and Xuanzang. There is a convenient PB anthology, Jeanette Mirsky, ed. and introd., The Great Chinese Travelers (Chicago and London, 1974). However, it is annoying in that editor's summaries and comment are interspersed with texts in a way that leaves some confusion as to what is primary source and what secondary. Perhaps the most accessible treatment of Xuanzang now is Sally Hovey Wriggins, Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road (Westview, 1996; PB), which is nicely illustrated. She largely re-tells his travels in her words, but occasionally lets him speak. When the famous 20th-century explorer Aurel Stein was in Central Asia, he was consciously following in Xuanzang's footsteps. Xuanzang is a way to take students all the way to Chang'an (Xi'an), where he took his treasure trove of Buddhist books that somehow miraculously survived the journey from India, and where he was buried. Along the way, as he did, one visits Dunhuang, a repository of magnificent Buddhist art in hundreds of caves.
There are many publications of the Buddhist art from Dunhuang, although nothing inexpensive and readily available. Standard histories of Chinese art normally include at least a few illustrations of this material, as well as other examples of Buddhist art in China. A good introduction to Dunhuang and its art can be found on the web site of the Silk Road Foundation http://www.silk-road.com, which is adding new material on a regular basis, including short historical sketches and some excellent photographs of the paintings. For another of the centers with Buddhist cave art in Central Asia, see National Geographic, April 1996.
A city of equivalent importance to Kashgar (where also branches of the Silk Road came together), Dunhuang, on the eastern end of the Taklamakan, was an administrative and economic, as well as a cultural center. It guarded the approaches to Central China from the west and also served as the springboard for Chinese conquests further into Central Asia. If students are interested in the Great Wall, which provides a way to get into topics regarding the interaction between nomads and sedentary peoples in Eurasia, there are some interesting ruins of the Western end of the wall near Dunhuang, along with garrison and watch towers. Some of these go back to the beginning of the Common Era. Aurel Stein wrote quite a bit about what he discovered in excavating the rubbish heaps left by the garrisons who manned this defensive network.
Return to Top