History and Culture of the Silk Road

Spring 2006


His/Rel 233-01
Instructors: Cecily McCaffrey, Xijuan Zhou
Time: 9:40-11:10 am
Place: Eaton, room 211

Office hours: Zhou: , Eaton 112, Thursday 2-3:30 pm or by appointment
McCaffrey: , Eaton 104, Wed. 2-4 pm or by appointment


Course Description

The goal of this course is to help students develop their understanding of a region of the world that has played an enormously important role in both world and Asian history. Stretching from China to the Mediterranean world, the Silk Road has for thousands of years been alive with dynamic interactions among various Asian cultural groups. It also has served as a vital link in the economic and cultural exchanges that occurred among the civilizations of Eastern Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. The course will specifically focus on the roles played by the natural environment, historical events, and individuals in the origins of and changes in Silk Road cultural forms.

The class will include both lectures and group discussions. Main discussion topics include the implications of long-range trade in certain commodities (silk, paper, tea, spices), the exchange of technology, and the spread and interactions among various religions, art forms, and literature. Most importantly of all, the class will examine the issue of cultural encounters along the Silk Road and the impact of all of these economic and cultural exchanges on the development of Asian and world civilizations.

As this course as designated a Thinking Historically MOI course, we will also periodically spend time in class examining the process of writing history, critiquing historians' arguments and interpretations, and posing different historical questions that might lead to interesting research on twentieth-century China. Also, a number of films will be shown to help illustrate the issues brought up in class and in the texts.


 Useful Web Links

Criteria for Evaluation of Web Resources

A Guide to Citing Internet Resources


Course Requirements

1.  Attendance and participation (20%):

a.     Regular attendance (10%)

b.     Assignments: including in-class writing, quiz or reflection paper (10%)

2. Group projects (20%): The class will divide into small groups and each group will be responsible for a small photo exhibit in the library focusing on one topic. Each group will also resent their project to the class.

3. Three in class tests (20% each): The test will be based on the understanding of main concepts and issues discussed in class as well as ideas reflected in readings.


Reading Materials

1. Books:

Peter Hopkirk, Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, London: John Murray, 1980
Frances Wood, The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia, University of California Press, 2003
Sally Hovey Wriggins, The Silk Road Journey with Xuanzang, Westview Press, 2003

2. Selections and articles from the following books:
Jerry Bentley, Old World Encounters, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993
John Larner, Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World, Yale University Press, 1999, ISBN: 0300089007
Ronald Latham, The Travels of Marco Polo, London: Penguin Books, 1958 
William McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1977
Edward Schafer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963
James Tracy, ed., The Rise of Merchant Empires, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990

3. Video tapes and movies on Silk Road.


Course Schedule
Jan. 17       Introduction: the historical significance of the Silk Roads

           Reading: Wood, The Silk Road, pp. 9-12




                 Video: Glories of ancient Chang-An


Jan. 19       People, geography and trade routes of the Silk Roads

                  Reading: Hadingham, "the Mummies of Xinjiang", pp. 68-77 (handout)

                  Bentley, Old World Encounters, chapter 1, pp. 3-28 (on reserve)


http://www.silk-road.com/toc/index.html  (travelers)

Mysteries of the Xiaohe tombs

                  Video: "Riddle of the desert mummies" (50 min)

Map for map assignment (you'll need to change your page setup to landscape mode to print this out properly)



Jan. 24       People and kingdoms along the Silk Roads

Reading: Bentley, Old World Encounters, chapter 2, pp. 29-66(on reserve)
Wood, The Silk Road, pp. 48-60
Recommended (but optional):
http://depts.washington.edu/uwch/silkroad/texts/hhshu/hou_han_shu.html#sec10 (translation of Hou Han Shu detailing Chinese views of  the "western regions" during the Han dynasty)
Homework 1. Marking out the routes of the Silk Road and locations of people on map
Jan. 26       Silk trade
Reading: Wood, The Silk Road, pp. 26-47
New York Times: "New Finds Suggest Even Earlier Trade on Fabled Silk Road" (handout)
Xinru Liu, Silk and Religion, pp. 1-24, 48-72(on reserve)


Jan. 27 Ancient Bronzes of the Asian Grasslands, lecture by Trudy Kawami, Director of Research, Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, 5-6 p.m., Paulus Lecture Hall,College of Law


Feb. 2       A Buddhist Pilgrim along the Silk Roads: Tang China and Chang'an

Reading: Wriggins, Xuanzang, ch. 1, 2, 3
Li, Rongxi, tr. The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions, pp. 15-47
http://depts.washington.edu/uwch/silkroad/exhibit/tang/tang.html                         http://depts.washington.edu/uwch/silkroad/cities/china/xian/xian.html

Film: Silk Road, v. 1: "China's cosmopolitan age the Tang, 618-907"


Feb. 7        Xuanzang's Return Journey: the Long Road Back
                  Reading: Wriggins, ch. 9, 10, 11, 12
                  Li, Rongxi, tr. The Great Tang Dynasty Record, pp. 357-399 (On reserve)
                  Film: Silk Road, v. 5: "In Search of the Kingdom of Lou-lan"


Feb. 9        Buddhism on the Silk Roads

Reading: Wood, The Silk Road, pp. 88-110
Mary P. Fisher, Living Religions, pp. 103-138 (reserve)
Film: Silk Road, v. 8: "A Heat Wave Called Turfan"
Feb. 14        Trade along the Silk Roads during Medieval Times
Feb. 16     1st Presentation of the groups on their library exhibition: History, People and Historical sites

Feb. 21      In-class writing: short test

Feb. 23      The Rising of the Mongols to Power  

Reading: David Morgan, The Mongols, chapters 3, pp. 55-83 (On reserve)
Bentley, Old World Encounters, pp. 89-110, 135-149 (On reserve)
http://www.silk-road.com/toc/index.html (maps-Mongol Empire) 
      Video: Storm from the east

Feb. 23 Lecture, Herders, Artisans, Shamans and Warrior of the Ancient Steppe, Sandra L. Olsen, Curator of Anthropology, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 7-8 p.m., Paulus Lecture Hall, College of Law

Feb. 28      Marco Polo's journey I

Reading: The Travels of Marco Polo, tr., Latham, pp. 74-112 (on reserve)
http://www.silk-road.com/toc/index.html (maps - route)
J. Larner, Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World, pp. 116-132 (on reserve)
Video: Silk Road, v.6, Across the Taklamakan Desert
Mar. 2        Marco Polo's journey II
Reading: The Travels of Marco Polo, pp. 113-162
F. Wood, Did Marco Polo go to China? Chapters 1, 2, 8, pp. 5-15, 64-75 (reserve)


Mar. 7       Christian missionaries
Reading: Bentley, Old World Encounters, pp. 149-164 (on reserve)
Dawson, The Mongol Mission (Selection), see the following web:
http://depts.washington.edu/uwch/silkroad/texts/rubruck.html Chapters: Introduction, 10, 12-22


Mar 9         Visit of Prof. Morris Rossabi and lecture in the evening

Mar. 14      Library exhibition and group presentation 2: trade, religion and technology.

Mar. 16     Cultural transmissions I: Paper and Printing

Readings: V. W. von Hagen, "Paper and Civilization", pp. 301-314(Blackboard)
B. Laufer, Paper and Printing in Ancient China, pp. 4-34 (reserve)

F. Robinson, "Technology and Religious Change: Islam and the impact of print", pp. 229-251(Blackboard)


Mar. 21      Cultural transmissions II: Black Death

Reading: Katharine Park, "Black Death," pp. 612-615 (reserve reading)
Norris, East or West? the geographic origin of the Black Death, pp. 1-24 (Blackboard)
Mark Wheelis, "Bilogical Warfare at teh 1346 siege of Caffa", pp. 971-5 (Blackboard)

Recommended: D. Raoult, "Molecular Identity by "Suicide PCR" of Yersinia Pestis as the Agent of Medieval Black Death", pp. 12800-12803(Blackboard)
McNeill, W.H., Plagues and Peoples, introduction, pp. 19-32 (reserve)


Mar. 23      Exam 2


Mar 27-31             Spring Break


Apr. 4       The Decline of the Silk Roads?

Reading: M. Rossabi, "The 'Decline' of the Central Asian Caravan Trades" (reserve)

                  P. Hopkirk, Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, chs. 2-3

Apr. 6     Early Pioneers of Central Asian Imperialism: Hedin & Stein
                  Reading: Foreign Devils, chs. 4-6 (40 pp.)


Apr. 11      The Scramble for Silk Road Riches

                  Reading: Foreign Devils, chs. 8-12


Apr. 13      Library Exhibition and Presentation 3: archaeology, folk arts, modern trade

Apr. 18    Willamette's own Foreign Devils

Reading: Foreign Devils, chs. 13, 14-16
                  Slides and reflections by Willamette faculty trip, summer 2002

Apr. 20     The Destruction and Restoration of Sites along the Silk Roads

Selections from the following (recommended):
Neville Agnew, Conservation of ancient sites on the Silk Road, 1997
Albert von Le Coq, Buried treasures of Chinese Turkestan, 1929
Slides of restoration projects at Dunhuang


Apr. 25      Music and Musicians along the Silk Road

Apr. 27      Exam 3


May 2        Conclusion