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The Silk Road: Imagining Global Cultures from the Middle Ages to UNESCO and BRI


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Dr Kate Franklin
  • Assessment: a 4000-4500-word essay (75%) and an oral presentation (25%)

Module description

In this module we explore the Silk Road, both as it was practised, experienced and imagined in the medieval period (continuing from ancient contact and trade through the continent-spanning movements of merchants, missionaries and Mongols), and as it shapes the experience and imagination of global cultures in the present.

We will examine archaeological, historical and art historical data, including textiles, instruments, ceramics, painting, architecture, cuisine, personal adornments, travel accounts, and accounts of contact, exchange, difference and desire.

Critically considering 'the Silk Road' as an idea with a genealogy in western history, we will think about how medieval people situated in Europe, the Mediterranean, Central Asia and China imagined themselves in relation to a global world of tastes, and as situated among other cultures.

Finally, we will look at the continuing life of the Silk Road as a concept, as a setting for popular imagination but also for politics at different scales.

Indicative syllabus

  • Introductions: Silk Road imaginaries
  • Consuming the Silk Road: globality medieval and modern
  • Where was the Silk Road? Archaeological sites, routes, space-times
  • Scales of encounter: tracing exchange in history and in archaeology
  • Others and selves: depictions of difference in medieval sources
  • Travellers and tale-tellers
  • A taste for distance: medieval 'Silk Road things'
  • Other views: medieval South and East Asian perspectives on the Silk Road
  • Belts and roads: the Silk Road in modern political imaginations
  • Distant mirrors: pluralising views on a global medieval phenomenon

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be:

  • familiar with archaeological and historical materials related to the broad geographic area encompassed by the medieval Silk Road
  • familiar with medieval representations of the 'Silk Road world' and its peoples
  • familiar with the evidence for medieval silk road commerce from various disciplines, including archaeology, art history, history
  • able to engage critically with theories of globalisation/and the global which draw on the medieval period
  • able to reflect critically on the implications for medieval history and archaeology as a global discipline presented by scalar engagements with the Silk Road
  • able to present anthropological, literary and critical historical frameworks for reading medieval accounts of alterity and encounter
  • able to engage with, effectively describe and analyse medieval primary materials: texts and objects
  • able to reflect on the connections between contemporary heritage politics and national policies and imaginaries of the medieval Silk Road.