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HH 4003 The Silk Road: Old and New
[Seminars: 39 hours; Tutorials: 13 hours; Academic Unit: 4.0]
Learning Objective
The New Silk Road is one of NTU’s five peaks of excellence. The Silk Roads have been revived
in the political discourses of the Chinese government over the last five years in its dealings with
its Asian and African neighbors, and in redefning its place in the world today. This course will
focus on equipping students to understand the long and complex history of the Silk Road, with a
particular focus on the enduring relationship between material culture, trade and socio-religious
movements. Understanding the history of the Silk Road will demonstrate to students the long and
complicated history of our globalised world where no culture has ever developed in total isolation
from others, but rather has been inextricably twined with developments in both neighbouring and
distant civilizations.
This course shall examine the relevance of the Silk Roads as a framework for understanding
Asian and global history. It will examine the fascinating and complex history of Eurasian trade
routes over land and sea, and the social, religious and political histories of the civilizations, which
developed alongside these routes. Taking both a thematic and a chronological approach, the
course is divided into three sections. In the first, we will look at the early history of the Silk Road
including the trade in silk, musk and other luxury goods, the links between religion and material
culture, the travelers, traders, monks and scholars who traversed these routes; the nomadic
populations of Central and Inner Asia and the archipelagos and littorals of Southeast Asia and
maritime Asia, and the empires in Eurasia. In the second section, we shall examine the shift from
land to sea in the system of Eurasian trade, in the context of the creation of a new global
commercial system, that was, in the course of the nineteenth century, transformed into the
modern world-system driven by the forces of capitalism and colonialism. These economic and
political transformations were accompanied by technological, cultural, and ideological/religious
transformations driven by projects of modernity and modernization. In the final section, we shall
examine the transformation of the Eurasian political economy in the context of the Cold War and
the forces of decolonization and nation-building, and the creation of a new world-system, after
1945, and the ways in which the framework fo the Silk Roads can be used to understand these
processes. WE shall end by examining the context for the revival of the Silk Roads as a political,
diplomatic, and academic metaphor, in the last ten years. By examining the post-Cold War world
through this concept, we shall explore the extent to which the Silk Roads is relevant to us for
understanding the world today.
Course Outline (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)
Seminar I: Introduction: themes, issues, sources
Seminar II: Material Goods: Silk, musk and the trans-Eurasian trade
Seminar III: Religion, Society and Material Culture: Travel, Traders and Scholars
Seminar IV: Coexistence and conflict on the Silk Roads: Societies, States, and Empires
Seminar V: Excursion 1
Seminar VI: Spices, Tea, and the Sea: European Interventions and Remaking Asian Trade
Seminar VII: Early Modern Material and Cultural Exchanges
Seminar VIII: Nineteenth-Century Empires and Reconfiguring Asia
Seminar IX: Excursion 2
Seminar X:
Religion, Reform, and Pan-Asian Visions
Seminar XI: Nationalism, the Cold War, and Developmental Regimes
Seminar XII: The Silk Roads, Globalization and the Post-Cold War World
Seminar XIII: Excursion 3
Learning Outcome
By the end of this course students will have:
 Acquired an understanding of the interconnected nature of the pre-modern and modern
 Acquired a familiarity with a highly important region which is often little understood.
 Acquired a knowledge of some of the thematic issues in the connected history of global
trade, material culture, religious co-existence, states and nomadic peoples.
Student Assessment
Students will be assessed by:
a. Class presentations
b. Research paper
c. Final Exam
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