Department of History



1043 Heller Hall

Telephone: 624-3314

Office hours: W 11:15-12:00

or by appointment





The Cultures of the Silk Road

Fall 2017

Hist 3504; ALL 3872; Rels 3708


Conceptual Frame:

The culture of the Silk Road flourished after the invasion of Alexander. The Road served as a hub of activity between the time of the Sassanids and the Mongols. Its activity came to a halt after the discovery of the sea routes. After the fall of the Soviet Union, not only the markets but also the intellectual legacy that was associated with them, have come to life in Central Asia. The course covers both the past and the present aspects of the Silk Road.


Student Learning Outcomes:

1.      Learning about the cultures of medieval and present-day Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran


2.      Ability to interpret diverse ideological trends and accept them for what they are

3.      Distinguish different economical, political, and cultural trends

4.      Examine the roots of conflict leading to amity and cooperation versus to animosity and war

5.      Appreciate the contributions of the Chinese, Central Asian, Afghan, and Iranian peoples to world civilization.


Class Sessions:


6       Introduction to the course, course content, materials to be covered, office hours, tests, reports, paper, grades, attendance sheet, etc. Part of the session will be used for introductions. The students will fill out a questionnaire indicating their areas of interest.

         Assignment:  Bashiri, 2016, pp. 59-64; Thubron, pp. 7-45; Whitfield, pp. 1-26

            E-Reserve link:


8       Geography of the Silk Road—natural and man-made features—Tarim Basin, Ferghana Valley, Bactrian Plain

         Assignment:  Frye, pp. 53-63; Whitfield, pp. 27-54; Thubron, pp. 96-137

         Assignment of Oral Reports

11     Peoples of the Silk Road (nomadic, settled)

         Assignment:  Bashiri, 2016, pp. 145-156; Frye, pp. 67-96; Whitfield, pp. 55-76


13     History of the Silk Road—Alexander's march to India

         Assignment:  Frye, pp. 99-118; Whitfield, pp. 76-94


15     Languages of the Silk Road (Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, Persian)

         Assignment:  Bashiri, 2016, pp. 5-12, 164-169; Frye, pp. 121-150


18     Activities on the Silk Road (Coming of the Indo-Europeans, appearance of Zoroastrianism)

         Assignment:  Frye, pp. 153-166; Whitfield, pp. 95-112


20     Oral Reports I


22     Oral Reports I


25    Oral Reports I


27     Discussion I (Stories in Life Along the Silk Road)

Assignment: Bashiri, 2017, pp. 1-20.


29     The Life of the Prophet of Islam

         Assignment: Bashiri, 2017, pp. 21-33; 49-60; Frye, pp. 169-198; Whitfield, pp. 113-137



2       The Islamic Conquests

         Assignment: Bashiri, 2017, pp. 73-84; Frye, pp. 201-232; Whitfield, pp. 138-154


4       Islamic Beliefs and Practices

         Assignment: Chambers, pp. 1-45; Case, "I Become a Bakhtiari"; "The Bakhtiaris of Iran"; Whitfield, pp. 155-173

         Study Guide I


6       In Search of Grass

         Assignment: Chambers, pp. 45-84; "The Qashqais of Iran"; Beck, pp. 27-73 (optional)


9       TEST ONE

         Assignment: Chambers, pp. 136-202; "The Kirghiz of Afghanistan"; Whitfield, pp. 206-222


11     Woven Gardens

         Assignment: Chambers, pp. 84-135; Whitfield, pp. 174-188


13     The Kyrgyz of Afghanistan

         Assignment:  "The Kazakhs of China"


16     The Kazakhs of China

         Assignment: handout


18     Discussion II (The lifestyles of the tribes are compared)

         Assignment: none


20    Development of literature on the Silk Road is discussed

         Assignment: Spuler, pp. 71-114


23     Chang’an to Khotan (48 min)

         Assignment: Bashiri,  Manghits to a Democratic State (pp. 1-19)


25     Oral Reports II


27     Oral Reports II


30     Open

Assignment: Bashiri,  Manghits to a Democratic State  (pp. 26-36)




1      Kucha to Margilan (38 min)

         Assignment: Bashiri, 2017, pp. 93-104.


3      The Mongol invasion of Central Asia

         Assignment: none


6      "Storm from the East"

         Part one of a four-part series dealing with the Mongol

         invasion of Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

         Assignment: Thubron, pp. 294-332

8       Invasion of Europe and the Middle East

          Study Guide II


10     The Fall of the Mongol Empire

         The Manghits of Bukhara


13     TEST TWO

         Assignment: Bashiri, "Central Asia: An Overview"; Rashid, pp. 25-77


15     The significance of Central Asia and its resources

         Assignment: Bashiri, "Iran: A Concise Overview"; Iranian Identity in Perspective


17     The Westernization of Iran; the role of the clergy

         Assignment: Bashiri, "Afghanistan: An Overview"


20     History and Culture of Afghanistan (rise and fall of the socialist movement)

         Assignment: Bashiri, "Tajikistan: A concise Overview"; Rashid, pp. 159-185


22     Tajikistan: the land and its people/current state of economy, privatization, health, etc

         Assignment: Bashiri, "Uzbekistan: A Concise Overview" ; Rashid, pp. 78-106


22-23 Thanksgiving holiday


27     The roots of the Tajik-Uzbek conflict

         Assignment: Bashiri, "Turkmenistan: A Concise Overview"; Rashid, pp. 187-206


29     The Islamic and Communist faces of Turkmenistan/current state of economy, privatization, health, etc.

         Assignment: Bashiri, "Kazakhstan: A Concise Overview"; Rashid, pp. 107-135




1       Kazakh and Russian relations

         Assignment: Bashiri, "Kyrgyzstan: A Concise Overview"; Rashid, pp. 136-158


4       Discussion of the Kyrgyz/ current state of economy, privatization, health, etc.

         Assignment: Grousset, pp. 120-126; Rudelson, pp. 5-30


6       Oral Reports III


8       Oral Reports III


11     Discussion III (The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism? by Rashid)

         Book Report is due


13     The Uighurs of Xinjiang

               Study Guide III is posted


         Final Paper is due


         Final exam (test 3) is on Thursday, December 21, 2017, 8:00-10:00 a.m.




There will be 1 book report, 3 tests, 1 oral report, and one final paper. Attendance and active participation in classroom discussions also carry points.


Book Report

Any book on the cultures of China, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran or about the interactions among these cultures, among each other or with India, China, Russia, and the Middle East is acceptable. The book for the book report must have the instructor's approval. The book report is due on Dec. 11, 2017. It carries 10 points. Guidelines for Writing Book Reports



There will be 3 tests. The dates for the tests are geared to the completion of the sections of the course devoted to each main topic. The exams will cover classroom discussions, reading assignments, and written and oral reports for the specific section. There will be no make-up tests. Exceptions will be made for hardship cases on an individual basis. The instructor should be informed, in advance, about the reason for not taking the test at the time it is administered. Each test carries 12 points.


Oral Reports

Each student participates in the gathering and delivering of information for 1 oral report.  After topics are assigned, each student prepares a presentation to be given to the class. The report (comprehensive PowerPoint presentation or full text) is emailed to the instructor for review 2 days ahead of time. Following the reports, the instructor will correct or adjust the reports as necessary and then send them to all students. Students are responsible for knowing the content of all the reports they receive for tests. Look at Guidelines for Oral Reports for information on writing the oral report.

The oral report is graded for the quality of its overall contribution to the class. Failure to participate at the time assigned results in the loss of 3 points. Failure to provide the class with a copy of the report results in the loss of the rest of the points. Each oral report carries 15 points for that round. The time for each presentation is 15 minutes.


The paper should be 10 pages double-spaced, printed, and presentable. It should deal with aspects of the Silk Road and its contribution to the promotion of commerce and knowledge. The paper should include an introduction, a reasonable development of the topic proposed, and a clear indication of diligent research. The bibliography is NOT included in the 10 pages. The paper must be presented in hardcopy. Look at Guidelines for Writing Papers for information on writing the paper. The Paper is due on Dec. 13, 2017. The paper carries 30 points as follows:

Aspects of paper

# of points



relevance and originality










footnotes & bibliography






Attendance is taken by passing a roster to be legibly signed. Each absence is worth half a point. Attendance carries 3 points.

Active Participation in Discussions

Three books are discussed at the times indicated in the Syllabus. Students are expected to show their knowledge of the content of the books by commenting on points related to the books. Active participation in discussions carries 6 points.

Grading Scale

4.0 scale


































Selected Bibliography


            The following books are available at the bookstore for purchase:

1.      Whitfield, Susan. Life Along the Silk Road, University of California Press, 1999 (required)

2.      Frye, Richard N. The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to the Turkish Expansion. Princeton: Marcus Wiener Publishers, 1996 (required)

3.      Bashiri, Iraj. Ancient Iran: Cosmology, Mythology, History, 2nd Edition, Cognella Publishers, 2016  (optional)

4.      Bashiri, Iraj, Modern Iran: Caliphs, Kings, and Jurisprudents, Cognella Publishers,  2017

5.      Thubron, Colin, Shadow of the Silk Road, Harper, 2006


The following books are available through the Reserve Room at Wilson Library:

1.       Allworth, Edward. Central Asia: 120 Years of Russian Rule, 1989.

2.       Bashiri, Iraj. Ancient Iran: Cosmology, Mythology, History, 2nd Edition, Cognella Publishers, 2016  (optional)

3.       Bashiri, Iraj, Modern Iran: Caliphs, Kings, and Jurisprudents, Cognella Publishers,  2017

4.       Beck, Lois. Nomad: A Year in the Life of a Qashqa'i Tribesman in Iran, University of California Press, 1991.

5.       Beckwith, Christopher J. Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present, Princeton University Press, 2009.

6.       Blunt, Wilfrid. The Golden Road to Samarkand, Viking Press, 1973.

7.       Chambers, James. The Devil's Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe, Oxford University Press, 1988.

8.       Case, Paul Edward, "I Become a Bakhtiari," National Geographic, Vol. 91, No. 3, March 1957, pp. 325-258.

9.       Dawson, Christopher, ed. The Mongol Mission: Narratives and Letters of the Franciscan Missionaries in Mongolia and China in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955.

10.   Dunn, Ross E. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

11.   Engels, Donald. Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, University of California Press, 1978.

12.   Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010

13.   Marsden, W. ed. The Travels of Marco Polo. New York: Dorset Press, 1987.

14.   Foltz, Richard C. Religions of the Silk Road: Overland Trade and Cultural Exchange From Antiquity to the Fifteenth Century. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

15.   Franck, Irene M. and David M. Brownstone. The Silk Road: A History, Facts on File Publications, 1986.

16.   Frye, Richard N. The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to the Turkish Expansion. Princeton: Marcus Wiener Publishers, 1996.

17.   Grousset, Rene. The Empire of the Steppe, Indiana University Press, 1986.

18.   Heissig, Walther. The Religions of the Mongols, University of California Press, 1980.

19.   Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

20.   Knobloch, Edgar. Beyond the Oxus: Archaeology, Art and Architecture of Central Asia, London, 1972.

21.   Rashid, Ahmed, The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism?, Oxford University Press/Zed Books, 1994.

22.   Spuler, Bertold. History of the Mongols, Dorset Press, 1968.

23.   Thubron, Colin, Shadow of the Silk Road, Harper, 2006

24.   Waley, Arthur. The Secret History of the Mongols, and Other Pieces. London: Allen and Unwin, 1963.

25.   Whitfield, Susan. Life Along the Silk Road, University of California Press, 1999.