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HIST341: The Silk Road and Central Eurasia

Unit 1: World Systems and Civilizations: The Significance of Central Eurasia   Central Eurasia encompasses a vast swath of arid land that is ill-suited for farming and far removed from coastal ports.  As a result, the earliest communities to emerge in Central Eurasia—around 4500 B.C.E.—were nomadic.  These migrant tribes were primarily herders, although a few tribes did engage in agricultural practices.  Nomads’ lives centered on the horse—used for both meat and transportation—and were shaped by frequent military campaigns.  When the Chinese opened the Silk Road in the second century, many nomadic tribes, particularly the Sogdians of the Fergana Valley, benefited by trading with silk merchants and raiding caravans.  In short, the opening of the Silk Road transformed the lives of the nomadic steppe peoples by introducing a new commercial system and by forging a link between Eurasia and the Mediterranean world.

In this unit, we will examine the emergence of the earliest nomadic peoples in Central Eurasia.  We will then study how the rise of silk production in China and the opening of the Silk Road influenced the nomads of Central Eurasia.

Unit 1 Time Advisory
This unit will take you approximately 5 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 1.1: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2: 2 hours

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
 
- Identify some of the main nomadic communities of Eurasia, their early history, and their ways of life. - Describe the course of technical innovation that fostered the production of material goods, such as jade and silk, which later became mainstays of cross-cultural trade along the Silk Road.

1.1 Origins   Note: This topic is covered by the resources beneath sub-subunits 1.1.1-1.1.4.

1.1.1 Early Nomadic Communities   - Reading: Silk Road House: Alma Kunanbaeva’s “Nomads” Link: Silk Road House:  Alma Kunanbaeva’s “Nomads” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read the PDF entitled “Nomads.” This article offers a brief overview of the geography of the Steppe and Eurasia and its relationship to human settlement and movement.
 
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  • Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh and Elmira Köçümkulkïzï’s “Traditional Cultures in Central Asia” Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh and Elmira Köçümkulkïzï’s “Traditional Cultures in Central Asia” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: This reading covers subunits 1.1.1 and 1.1.2.  Please read this text and the embedded links on "Religion," "Dwellings," and "Food."  This series of webpages explores various aspects of Central Asian culture, the primary focus being the culture of pastoral nomads.  They combine contemporary observations with some of the evidence provided by the sources included.
     
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1.1.2 Agriculture and Herding   - Reading: The International World History Project: R. A. Guisepi’s “Nomadic Challenges and Civilized Responses” Link: The International World History Project: R. A. Guisepi’s “Nomadic Challenges and Civilized Responses” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  Note that the domestication of animals made possible a new basis for the support and organization of human societies; this new system was known as nomadic pastoralism.  Pay special attention to the development of this new type of nomadism in Eurasia.
 
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1.1.3 Horses   - Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “A Chronology of Horse, Camel, and Wheel” Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “A Chronology of Horse, Camel, and Wheel” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This is a brief chronology of some of the discoveries and inventions that changed the history of Eurasia (8,000 BCE- 9th Century CE).
 
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  • Reading: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: “Horses and Camels” Link: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: “Horses and Camels” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  In this text, Professor Waugh analyzes the role of animals (specifically, the role of horses and camels) in the development of international relations and trade, particularly for the Silk Road.
     
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1.1.4 Technological, Military, and Political Developments   - Reading: Hartwick College: David W. Anthony and Dorcas R. Brown’s “Harnessing Horsepower” Link: Hartwick College: David W. Anthony and Dorcas R. Brown’s “Harnessing Horsepower” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this webpage in its entirety. Pay special attention to the shift of military primacy to the northern steppes around 2,000 BC thanks to the use of horse-drawn chariots.
 
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1.2 Discovery of Silk   - Reading: The Silkroad Foundation’s “History of Silk” Link: The Silkroad Foundation’s “History of Silk” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This reading offers an overview of the legendary origins of silk, and the secrets of sericulture. 
 
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1.2.1 Yangshao Culture in China   - Reading: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Department of Asian Art’s “The Neolithic Period in China” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Department of Asian Art’s “The Neolithic Period in China
 
Instructions:  Please read this text in its entirety.  We retreat a little farther back into Chinese history here to learn more about the arts—crafts of regions that became very important in the development of the Silk Road.   The authors give particular attention to the art and artifacts of Yangshao culture and the use of jade.  In addition to reading the text, click on “View Slideshow” at the top of the page.  You may click on each individual image to enlarge it and for more information on each specific piece of art.

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1.2.2 Domestic Silkworms and Chinese Monopoly   - Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Silk” Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Silk” (HTML)
 
Instructions: This reading covers subunits 1.2.2-1.2.5.  Please read this text in its entirety.  In this text, Professor Waugh describes silk as the product that best encompasses the history of economic and cultural exchange across Eurasia, as a political and religious symbol, and as a currency.
 
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1.2.3 Spread of Sericulture in Eurasia   Note: This topic is covered by the reading beneath sub-subunit 1.2.2.

1.2.4 Silk Textiles   Note: This topic is covered by the reading beneath sub-subunit 1.2.2.

1.2.5 Silk as Commodity   Note: This topic is covered by the reading beneath sub-subunit 1.2.2.