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Culture and Conquest: the Impact of the Mongols and their Descendants


Please note: The course information has not yet been updated. Below is the course information from 2017-2018. We will update this information as soon as possible.

Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies, MA Middle Eastern Studies, (60 Ec or 120 EC) or the MA History. Please, contact Dr. G.R. van den Berg if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of one of the above-mentioned Masters.


In the thirteenth century, the Mongols created a vast empire that covered large parts of Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Their swift conquests shook the Old World to its very foundations and changed its outlook entirely. In many contemporary sources the Mongols are depicted as ruthless barbarians. At the same time, however, the Mongols heralded a new era of globalization by creating unprecedented opportunities for cultural transmission and exchange. Hence by stimulating the circulation of people, commodities, knowledge and ideas, they made a significant contribution to almost all the medieval civilizations surrounding the arid zones of Central Eurasia.
In this course, we will look at the immediate and long-term impact of the Mongols and their descendants (e.g. the Timurids and Mughals) on the course of Eurasian history. How we should evaluate their political and cultural legacy in the light of both contemporary sources and the more recent historiography? How the various settled societies of Eurasia resisted and/or accommodated this sudden outburst of both relentless violence and refreshing creativity?
Finally, how the Mongols themselves fashioned their legacy and to what extent they were able to construct their own image and memory in e.g. art, literature and history-writing? All these questions will be discussed with experts from various disciplinary and area backgrounds and as such the course aims to provide a truly comparative and connective Eurasian perspective.

Course objectives

Students acquire:

  • The ability to independently identify and select sources

  • The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question

  • The ability to analyze and evaluate literature and sources for the purpose of producing an original scholarly argument

  • The ability to interpret a corpus of sources

  • Knowledge and comprehension of global history and its historiography specifically:

  • 1) empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective;

  • 2) comprehension of how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalization (in particular during the period 1200-1940)

Specific objectives:

  • This course aims to provide a comparative and connective Eurasian perspective of the history of Asia, the Middle East and Europe, taking the Mongol Empire as a premodern example of globalization.

  • It intends to provide analytical tools to evaluate the literature on the topic, to build scholarly arguments and to develop original research questions in connection with the current historiography.

  • Special attention will be devoted to cross-cultural approaches. Contemporary debates will be identified and discussed, including the most recent issues regarding the Pax Mongolica, the Silk Roads, the Tatar yoke, pre-modern imperialism, political and national uses of historical figures such as Chinggis-khan, Qubilai, Timur and Babur.

Extra course objectives for Research Master Students:

  • The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources

  • The ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates

  • Knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialisation



Mode of instruction

  • Research seminar
    Attendance and participation in discussions are mandatory. Each student is expected having done the assigned readings and prepared to discuss them with others. Bring the book or handouts we are working on to each meeting. If an emergency requires you to miss a meeting, notify the instructor in time, and be prepared to have another student report on what you missed; you are responsible for seminar information and announcements whether present or not.
    Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors 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.

Course Load

Total: 280 hrs.

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: (2-3 hrs per week) 36

  • Time for studying the compulsory general literature (ca. 475 pages, ca 12 pages per hour): 40

  • Time for studying the compulsory weekly literature, from week 3: (average 45 pages per week, ca. 12 pages per hour) 40

  • Time to prepare comments/questions: 5

  • Time to write AQCI: 5

  • Time to prepare research presentation: 5

  • Time to write research paper (including reading and research): 149

Assessment method


  • AQCI: this exercise is based on an attentive reading of the course manual (Thomas Allsen, Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001) taken as a starting point for the current approach of the Mongol agency in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The student is asked to identify the author’s main arguments and to connect them to his own scholarly knowledge. A first set of potential research questions should be addressed.

  • Paper: the student writes an academic paper in which the capacity to interpret and synthesize scholarly and specialized literature relevant to the topic is displayed. The use of primary sources is obligatory. This paper shows:

  • The ability to independently identify and select sources

  • The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question

  • The ability to analyze and evaluate literature and sources for the purpose of producing an original scholarly argument

  • The ability to interpret a corpus of sources

  • The ability to give a clear written report on the research results in English or Dutch,

  • The ability to independently identify and select sources and literature* Presentation, comments and participation show

  • The ability to give a clear oral report on the research results in English or Dutch The ability to provide constructive academic feedback

  • The ability to engage actively with other students (participation)

  • The ability to engage with constructive academic feedback (participation)


Assessment and grading method (in percentages):

  • AQCI (wp, 20%, deadline 1st March 2018)

  • Paper (8,000 words, deadline at the end of the term, mid-June) (60%)

  • Research presentations and comments to lectures (op, 20%)

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. (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convenor of the course.)

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

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Exam review

Students may request an oral elucidation of the assessment within 30 days after publication of the grade.



Reading list

  • Thomas Allsen, Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001.

  • Michal Biran, “The Mongol Transformation: From the Steppe to Eurasian Empire”, Medieval Encounters, 10, 1-3 (2004): pp. 339-361.

  • Nicola di Cosmo, State Formation and Periodization in Inner Asian History, Journal of World History, 1999, Vol. 10 (1), pp. 1-40.

  • A.G. Hopkins, “The History of Globalization – and the Globalization of History?”, in Hopkins (ed.), Globalization in World History, (London, 2002): pp.11-47.

  • Joseph Fletcher, “The Mongols: Ecological and Social Perspectives”, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 46 (1986): pp. 11-50.

  • Morris Rossabi, The Mongols. A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012.

This is the general reading list. Further readings will be announced via Blackboard.


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 “Act.nbr.”.


Dr. G.R. van den Berg


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 accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

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).