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Material Culture, Memory and Commemoration along the Silk Roads in Central Asia


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (60 EC or 120 EC or research), MA Middle Eastern Studies (60 EC or research), or the MA International Relations. Please, contact the student advisor, Dr. Nicole van Os, or Dr. Elena Paskaleva, if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of one of the above-mentioned Masters.


The most unexpected innovations and fusions of world’s religions and material culture have taken place along the trade and communication networks known today as the Silk Roads. Term coined by the German geologist Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877, the Silk Road has attracted much scholarly interest in recent years. The aim of this course is to provide an overview of the incredible cultural importance of Central Asia, defined as the five post-Soviet republics, including the region of Khorasan, present-day Afghanistan, Xinjiang and Mongolia. The artistic vibrancy of the empires that stretched from China to Byzantium was reflected in their cultural production. Their artistic excellence combined with exquisite decorum was the product of continuous exchanges, mixing and melding of traditions.

Further, the course will offer a broader understanding of the concept of common heritage and multiple identities across Central Asia. Students will analyse cultural memory practices used by the contemporary Central Asian elites as a tool for boosting ethno-nationalism. Aside from the rehabilitation of powerful historical figures as national heroes, the value of cultural memory practices lies in the transmission of beliefs, values and collective acts of cultural remembering. How can these practices and local historical contingencies provide a better understanding of the search for national identities in modern Central Asia?

Students will be introduced to twelve topics related to the material culture along the Silk Roads. Artefacts across the vast Central Asian urban landscapes and steppes will be analysed as material carriers of cultural memory. Starting from the Achaemenid Dynasty (6th c. AD), through the early formative era of Islam up to modern times, the analysis will show the construction of a multi-faceted cultural oecumene. To what extent has Islamic practice been a cohesive or a divisive factor in shaping the relationships between sedentary and nomadic societies along the Silk Roads? Why has the revival of Islamic communities (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) become the centre of governmental cultural policies across modern Central Asia?

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of the course you will:

  • grasp the diversity of the Silk Roads cultural networks, their organization across natural and human-imposed boundaries, and their evolution under the influence of political, religious, economic and social changes;

  • gain insight into ideological practices creating national identities and transforming the cultural spaces along the Silk Roads in modern Central Asia;

  • be able to provide empirical analysis of tangible and intangible heritage along the Silk Roads;

  • evaluate the international discourses on transforming cultural spaces through modernization, tourism and globalization.



Regular classes

Classes every Monday, 15.15-17.00 hrs

Guest lectures

Please NOTE that there are EXTRA obligatory meetings for this course, related to guest lectures organized by LUCIS and the Central Asia Initiative. Exact overview (dates, venues, times) will be provided in the syllabus.

Mode of instruction


Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The conveners need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Guest lectures

Please NOTE that there are EXTRA obligatory meetings for this course, related to guest lectures organized by LUCIS and the Central Asia Initiative. Exact overview (dates, venues, times) will be provided in the syllabus.

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Regular seminars (2 hours/week x 12 weeks) = 24 hours

  • Guest lectures (8 guest lectures x 2 hours each) = 16 hours

  • Reading assignments = 100 hours

  • Individual research case study (including reading and presentation) = 40 hours

  • AQCI Writing assignment (1000 words) = 30 hours

  • Field trips (2 trips x 4 hours each) = 10 hours

  • Term paper (case study, 5000 words) = 60 hours

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimise overlap between prior and new work.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Active participation in the class meetings and discussions 20%
Critical analysis of literature and source information, including an AQCI written assignment: Argument, Question, Connections and Implications (1000 words) 20%
Oral presentation of a case study 20%
Term paper (case study, 5000 words) 40%

The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Term paper submission

The final paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version.

Students can submit the term paper (case study) as a draft on Sunday, 6 January 2019. The instructor will provide comments by 13 January 2019. The final submission should be on Sunday, 20 January 2019, 12:00 noon. Late submissions will not be accepted.

All assignments should be submitted through Blackboard.


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper, a resit of the paper is possible (40%). In that case the convener of the course may assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.

A resit of the other partial assessments is not possible.

Exam review

How and when a term paper review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the course results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the course results, a term paper review will have to be organized.


Yes, Blackboard will be used for:

  • Uploading all course materials (syllabus, readings and assignments)

  • Uploading teaching materials (power point presentations)

  • Students will submit all assignments through Blackboard

Reading list

Course books

  • Hansen, Valerie. 2016. The Silk Road. A New History with Documents. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Frankopan, Peter. 2015. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

  • Sela Ron and Scott C. Levi. 2010. Islamic Central Asia: An Anthology of Historical Sources. Indiana University Press.

  • Cummings, Sally. 2012. Understanding Central Asia. London: Routledge.

Additional literature will be provided via Blackboard and a course shelf at the University Library.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “USIS-Actnbr.”. More information on uSis is available in Dutch and English. You can also have a look at the FAQ.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


mw. Dr. Elena Paskaleva


The course is offered as part of the Central Asia Initiative at Leiden University.

Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.