College Course Syllabi

  • "The Silk Road." Taught by Daniel C. Waugh, University of Washington (Seattle).

    A lower division survey, the course covers the history of cultural and economic exchange across Eurasia for nearly two millennia, from the period of Han China down through the Mughals and Safavis of the seventeenth century. The syllabus links to a wide range of course materials, some of which are publicly available, some password-controlled and accessible only to students in the class. The current version of the syllabus is for winter quarter 2005, presumably the last time this course will be offered.


  • "The Silk Road: Crossroads of Cultures." Taught by Professor Shoshana Keller, Hamilton College.
    The catalogue description:
    Introduction to the role of cross-cultural contact as a driving force in history. The Silk Road ran from China to Rome, serving as a conduit for goods, people and ideas from prehistorical times to 1500 C.E. Examination of issues of trade, language, religion and political power as Chinese, Mongols, Persians, Turks, Greeks and others interacted along this vital route. Stress on basic skills in the study of history." To access the syllabus, click on the course title, then the "preview" button on the Blackboard page. The syllabus will be found as one of the links under "Course Documents.


  • "History and Culture of the Silk Road." Taught by Paul Howard and Xijuan Zhou, Willamette University.
  • A lecture/discussion course, offered in Spring 2000. As described in the syllabus,

    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.... 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 impact of all of these economic and cultural exchanges on the development of Asian and world civilizations.


  • "The Silk Road: Pre- and Post-Modern Travel Narrative." Taught by Professor Dru C. Gladney, Asian Studies, University of Hawaii.

    The description from the syllabus:
    This course will examine contemporary theories of travel narrative from the perspective of the Silk Road across Eurasia. The course will consider the relevance of this growing body of theory for understanding social and political processes in the old and new states of Asia. Considering the Eurocentric nature of most theories of travel and the Silk Road, this course will ask: Are these theories useful for the Asian context? Do they help or hinder understanding of recent and current travel narrative in Asia? Are there different styles of travel and travel narrative in Asia and Europe? What is the role of religion, ritual, and representation in constructing the nature of the Silk Road? What is the general history of the Silk Road and why is it important in linking constructions of the pre- and post-modern histories of East and West? The course is an advanced reading/discussion seminar.


  • Religions of Iran. Taught by Prof. Richard C. Foltz, University of Florida.
    Course Description:
    Iran is one of the major birthplaces of world religions, including Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and Baha’i, as well as numerous minor sects. Iranian civilization has also played a major role in informing and transforming Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. This course covers the long history of Iranian civilization in terms of the religious life of Iranians and the many other peoples who have been affected and influenced by Iranian society from the Mediterranean world to South and East Asia.


  • Silk Road Eurasian Art. Taught by Lawrence E. Butler, George Mason University, for University of Pittsburgh Semester at Sea.
    Course description:
    The Silk Road was the world's first great superhighway, linking China and Japan to the Mediterranean World across Central Asia from ancient times, via caravans and bazaars. The peoples along the way not only traded luxury goods, but also ideas, religions, art, culinary and musical traditions. This course offers an entirely new way to look at the ancient and medieval art of Eurasia, as we travel with Marco Polo. Through lectures, reading, site visits and films, we will explore the trade links between East and West, and the art associated with those routes. Primary-source literature will help us understand the great ideas and movements of the times-Buddhism, Islam, the Indian royal epics, Christian crusading and Mongol expansion. We will try to see monuments of the great trading regions through the eyes of travelers who were seeing these things for the first time-as we will be. This course requires no previous experience, but is intended those who like interdisciplinary approaches to art and travel. No previous coursework is required.
    Course objectives:
  • To introduce students to the art of ancient and medieval Eurasia in a way that stresses the links, as well as the differences, between traditions
  • To examine the history of cultural interactions between East Asia and the Mediterranean world, from Roman times until the present day, through the evidence of art and architecture
  • To expose students to some of the great classics of travel literature and fiction, and to use them as primary sources for art history
  • To offer students a historical perspective on travel, trade, and geography, and their impact on human culture
  • To provide practice in thinking, reading, and writing about historical art and architecture.
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  • There is a wide range of Central-Asia-related course syllabi posted in pdf format (but for the most part not downloadable or copyable) on the Central Eurasian Studies World Wide pages at Harvard. Among those of particular relevance for the Silk Road are the following:
  • David Christian (San Diego State University)
    The Silk Roads in World History (Fall 2001)
    "This course is about the Silk Roads and about World History. Its first goal is to explore the prehistory and history of the Silk Roads, in order to understand their broader significance for World History. The course has a second goal: to help students become a better reader of history."
  • Heleanor Beth Feltham (Sydney University Centre for Adult Education)
    Along the Silk Road: Central Asia; Prehistory to AD 1750 (2001)
    "Central Asia traditionally sustained two very different modes of life. Pastoral nomads and oasis settlers existed in a delicate balance sustained by trade, both mutual and across the region from the Mediterranean to China. The early historical period saw the Silk Road develop, and the penetration into the region of Chinese, Iranian and Greek cultures. It also saw cyclic waves of nomads impact on the great civilizations beyond the centre."
  • James Millward (Georgetown University)
    The History of Central Eurasia (2001)
    "Through lectures, primary and secondary readings, class discussion and audio-visual material, this course will survey the ecological, cultural, social and political dynamics of the peoples of Central and Inner Asia (Central Eurasia) from the origins of the steppe-pastoral economy up to the present. Our geographic scope will take in those regions which today comprise Mongolia, Xinjiang (Eastern Turkestan), Tibet and the former Soviet Central Asian Republics, and will venture at times into neighboring zones, including Turkey, Russia, Siberia, Iran, India, Afghanistan, and China. Needless to say, both the time-frame and geographic area under consideration are very great, but this is justified--indeed, required, by the larger purpose of this course: to highlight ways in which Central Eurasia and its peoples have been central to world history. Linking our examination of particular eras and peoples will be an overarching concern with the dynamics of the relationship between the peoples of the steppes and deserts at the core of the Eurasian continent and the sedentary societies around the rim. We will likewise pay close attention to ways in which political, commercial and cultural linkages across the Eurasian steppe connected Europe, Persia, Mesopotamia and China from times predating the opening of direct maritime communications between Europe and Asia."
  • Peter B. Golden (Rutgers University)
    Peoples and Cultures of Central Asia (1999, 2001)
    "This course is an interdisciplinary introduction to the history, ethnology, society and culture of the Turkic, Mongolian, Manchu-Tungus, Tibetan, Uralic and Palaeo-Siberian peoples of Central and Inner Asia from Ancient Times to their conquest by the Russian Empire. Additionally, students will become familiar with the various disciplines and methodologies used to study a variety of sedentary, steppe-pastoral nomadic and forest hunting and gathering societies."
  • Marianne Kamp (Whitman College)
    Tribes, States, and Nations in Central Asia (Spring 2000)
    "In this course we will examine the history and culture of "Central Asia." In this class, "Central Asia" will refer to many places that share a heritage from a Turco-Mongol culture that dominated Asia from the Black Sea to Mongolia in the 13th century. "Central Asia" is a very flexible term, but in this course we will study the history of Mongolia, northwestern China (Xinjiang province), Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and parts of southern Russia. United under Mongol rule (a tribe? a state?) for only a short period, the tribal peoples of Central Asia eventually found that their form of social and political organization could not withstand the growing power of neighboring empires, Russia and China. These empires, in turn, after conquering Central Asia, fostered political nationalism among the Central Asian peoples. We shall investigate the concepts of tribe, state and nation in Central Asia, looking at change and continuity in social and cultural life in periods of dramatic political and economic transformations."
  • Adeeb Khalid (Carleton College)
    Empires of the Steppe (Spring 2002)
    "This course provides an introduction to the history of Inner Asia, the vast region that bridges the civilizations of China, the Middle East, and Europe, but which itself has been the center of empires that have shaped and reshaped the history of the Old World. Beginning with the ecological imperatives that shape life in Inner Asia, we will survey the history of the region and its interactions with its neighbors with the emphasis on cultural and political developments from the earliest times to the present."
  • David Nalle (ILR at American University)
    Central Asia Rejoins the World (Spring 2002)
    "This course discusses areas such as the vortex slides of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, what Alexander found and left, silk, wine and religion, Avicenna as the librarian of the Samanid King, Genghis, Timur, Nava'i and Babur, dreadful emirs, mullahs and the Jadids, Massoud, Karimov, and Turkmenbashi, and the Future of Central Asia."
  • Jack Weatherford (Macalester College)
    The Mongols: Past and Present (Fall 2001)
    "By combining ethnography and history, we will study the origins of the Mongol Empire and the impact that it had on the conquered countries -- including China, Russia, the Middle East, and India. We will look at the contemporary people of Inner Asia as they struggle to deal with their dramatic legacy in the modern world system."
  • Christopher P. Atwood (Indiana University)
    Mongol Conquest (Fall 2001)
    "This course deals with the empire built by the Mongols in the 13th century-the largest land empire in the world. All readings will be from translated primary sources of the 13th and 14th centuries, written by the Mongols themselves and also by Persian, Chinese, Eastern Christians, Europeans, and other peoples that fought, surrendered to, or traded with the Mongol conquerors."
  • © 2001 Daniel C. Waugh. Last updated November 15, 2002.

    Silk Road Seattle is a project of the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington.