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HIST341: The Silk Road and Central Eurasia

Unit 9: European Traders and Explorers   Although the overland silk routes were lucrative trade networks, Europeans, as avid consumers of silk and other Eurasian luxury goods, were keen to establish a new silk route to the East.  In fact, when Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in 1492, he was looking not for the Americas but for a new silk route to the Far East.  As a result, Portuguese, Dutch, and English merchants sought to build an Asia trading empire between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Meanwhile, European missionaries, particularly the Jesuits, attempted travel to China along the original silk routes.  The Russians, too, sought to extend their influence in China; the “Siberian Road” linked Siberia, China, and European Russia.

In this unit, we will consider how European traders and explorers sought to create new silk routes between the Far East and Europe.  We will examine the overland and maritime routes explored and exploited by Europeans between the 1400s and the 1700s.

Unit 9 Time Advisory
Time Advisory: This unit will take you approximately 13.5 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 9.1: 6 hours
 

☐    Sub-subunit 9.1.1: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit 9.1.2: 2 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 9.1.3: 2 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 9.1.4: 1 hour
 

☐    Subunit 9.2: 2.5 hours

☐    Subunit 9.3: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 9.4: 2 hours 

Unit9 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

  • Discuss some of the major figures and events that profoundly affected commercial and cultural exchanges between Asia and Europe during the early modern era.
  • Describe the types of economic and political interests that guided these interactions and their effect upon the Silk Road.
  • Identify some basic similarities and differences in the experience, aims, and interests of the major European mercantilist and/or expansionist states.
  • Discuss the activities and fortunes of the Catholic Church in China and its representatives.

9.1 Early Explorers   9.1.1 A New Silk Route?   - Reading: Dr. Steven Kreis’s The History Guide: Lectures on Early Modern European History: “Lecture 2: The Age of Discovery” Link: Dr. Steven Kreis’s The History Guide: “Lectures on Early Modern European History: “Lecture 2: The Age of Discovery” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text and all embedded links in their entirety.  Pay special attention to the reasons that led explorers to seek a direct route to India and the Far East.
 
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9.1.2 Marco Polo   - Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Marco Polo and His Impact on Perceptions of the East” Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Marco Polo and His Impact on Perceptions of the East” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  In it, Professor Waugh tells the story of Marco Polo (c.1257-1324), a Venetian merchant whose work, Il Milione, introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China.
 
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9.1.3 Vasco de Gama   - Reading: University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s “The Sea-Route to India & Vasco Da Gama” Link: University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s “The Sea-Route to India & Vasco Da Gama” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama (1460-1524) led the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India. 
 
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  • Reading: Fordham University’s Internet Modern History Sourcebook: Paul Halsall’s version of “Vasco da Gama: Round Africa to India, 1497-1498 CE” Link: Fordham University’s Internet Modern History Sourcebook: Paul Halsall’s version of “Vasco de Gama: Round Africa to India, 1497-1498 CE” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This brief excerpt tells the story of the first voyage around Africa to India and back.
     
    Terms of Use: This material is part of the public domain. 

9.1.4 Christopher Columbus   - Reading: University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s “Christopher Columbus and the Spanish Empire” Link: University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s “Christopher Columbus and the Spanish Empire” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  Columbus’ first voyage came at the critical time of economic competition between developing kingdoms seeking wealth from the establishment of trade routes and colonies.  In fact, Columbus was looking for a westward route from Iberia to the Indies; if true, this would allow Spain entry into the lucrative spice trade.
 
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9.2 European Merchants and Traders   9.2.1 Portuguese Merchants   - Reading: History World: Bamber Gascoigne’s “Portugal’s Eastern Trade: AD 1508-1595” Link: History World: Bamber “Portugal’s Eastern Trade: AD 1508-1595” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text and all embedded links in their entirety.  This reading discusses Portugal’s virtual monopoly of eastern spices in the 16th century—to the detriment of Venice.  Pay special attention to the motives for establishing the sea route round the Cape of Good Hope.
 
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9.2.2 East India Company   - Reading: Fordham University: Paul Halsall’s “Indian History Sourcebook: England, India, and The East Indies, 1617 CE” Link: Fordham University: Paul Halsall’s “Indian History Sourcebook: England, India, and The East Indies, 1617 CE” (HTML)
 
Instructions: As you read, consider the following questions: With whom did the English compete in the Spice Islands? According to the first account, why did the English approach India for a commercial treaty? What did the Great Moghul Jahangir grant to Englishmen in his dominion?
 
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9.2.3 Dutch VOC   - Reading: Hofstra University’s “The Geography of Transport Systems:” “Dutch East India Company, Trade Network, 17th Century” Link: Hofstra University’s “The Geography of Transport Systems:” “Dutch East India Company, Trade Network, 17th Century
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602, had a near monopoly in carrying out colonial activities in Asia, and was the first multinational corporation in the world.
 
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9.3 Missionaries   - Reading: Social Science Research Network: Harvard University: Kenneth Wilson and Mary Jo Bane’s “Reflections on the Jesuit Mission to China” Link: Social Science Research Network: Harvard University: Kenneth Wilson and Mary Jo Bane’s “Reflections on the Jesuit Mission to ChinaReflections on the Jesuit Mission to China
 
Instructions:  Please click the “Download” link at the top of the page, and read all of this text (38 pages), which covers subunits 9.3.1-9.3.3.  In addition to providing you with a general introduction to Catholic evangelization efforts in China and the activities of leading Jesuit missionaries, the authors offer a thought-provoking view of how key figures, such as Matteo Ricci, attempted to “accommodate” the beliefs of their prospective converts without compromising the theological integrity of the Catholic faith. 
 
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  • Reading: Fordham University’s Internet Modern History Sourcebook: Paul Halsall’s version of St. Francis Xavier’s “Letter on the Missions, to St. Ignatius de Loyola” (1549) Link: Fordham University’s Internet Modern History Sourcebook: Paul Halsall’s version of St. Francis Xavier’s “Letter on the Missions, to St. Ignatius de Loyola” (1549) (HTML)
     
    Instructions: This text covers subunits 9.3.1-.9.3.3.  Please read the entire text.  This excerpt is part of the story of the patron saint of Christian missions to Asia, St. Francis Xavier, who had a truly global view of the world.  In this letter, St. Francis Xavier describes Portugal’s Indian Ocean commercial empire.
     
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9.3.1 Jesuits   Note: This topic is covered by the readings in subunit 9.3.

9.3.2 Exploration   Note: This topic is covered by the readings in subunit 9.3.

9.3.3 Contact with China and Central Eurasia   Note: This topic is covered by the readings in subunit 9.3.

9.4 Russian Influence   9.4.1 Rise of Tsarist Russia   - Reading: Library of Congress Country Studies: Glenn E. Curtis’ (ed.) Russia: A Country Study: “Muscovy” Link: Library of Congress Country Studies: Glenn E. Curtis’ (ed.) Russia: A Country Study: “Muscovy” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Tsardom of Russia was the official government of Russia between Ivan IV’s coronation (1547) and Peter the Great’s foundation of the Russian Empire (1721).
 
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9.4.2 Treaty of Nerchinsk   - Reading: Cultural China’s “Treaty of Nerchinsk – The First Treaty Between Russia and China” Link: Cultural China’s “Treaty of Nerchinsk – The First Treaty Between Russia and China” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689) was the first treaty between Russia and China.
 
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9.4.3 Creation of the “Siberian Route”   - Reading: Gubernskaya Academy: Enrico Sartori’s translation of Roman Fedorov’s “The Road Which Has Created Russia” Link: Gubernskaya Academy: Enrico Sartori’s translation of Roman Fedorov’s “The Road Which Has Created Russia” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Siberian Route—also known as the Great Route—was a road that connected European Russia to Siberia and China.  Even though the construction of the road was decreed two months after the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689), construction did not start until 1730 and was not finished until the mid-19thcentury.
 
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