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Culture and Conquest: the Impact of the Mongols and their Descendants (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research), the MA Asian Studies (research) or another relevant Research MA. Students from other departments are kindly referred to the course description of the regular MA course.


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


See timetable of the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) or the timetable of the MA Asian Studies (research).

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. 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 course load: 10 EC x 28 hours 280 hours
Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: (2-3 hrs per week) 35 hours
Extra contact hours Research MA students 6 hours
Time for studying the compulsory general literature (ca. 500 pages, ca 12 pages per hour) 42 hours
Time for studying the compulsory weekly literature, from week 3: (average 40 pages per week, ca. 12 pages per hour) 33 hours
Time to prepare comments/questions 10 hours
Time to write AQCI 8 hours
Time to prepare research presentation 8 hours
Time to write research paper (including reading and research) 138 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.

Students must submit their assignment(s) to the blackboard through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Comments to lectures and discussion, active participation 10%
AQCI (deadline 1 March ) 20%
Research presentation 10%
Paper (deadline at the end of the term, mid-June) 60%

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.

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

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.

Late submissions of the final version will result in a deduction of paper grades as follows: 1-24 hrs late = -0.5; 24-48 hrs late = -1.0; 48-72 hrs late = -1.5; 72-96 hrs late = -2.0. Late papers will not be accepted more than four days after the deadline, including weekends and will be graded with 1.0.

The deadline for the paper is at the end of the term, mid-June.

Presentation, comments and participation show that the student has

  • 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)

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.


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 (60%). 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

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



Note: there is no separate Blackboard page available for this ResMa course. Please subscribe to the Blackboard page of the regular MA course.

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.

For the Research MA students additional reading will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ fields of interest. Extra sessions will be organized to discuss this extra literature.


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 using the search term "uSis".

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 à la carte or contractonderwijs

Not Applicable.


Dr. G.R. van den Berg or Tobias Jones


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.