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Introduction to Central Asian History
CEUS-R 310/510
Ron Sela

Central Asia, the world’s “crossroads of cultures and civilizations,” has witnessed an unparalleled increase in world interest since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Its global significance, reflected in its strategic location between China, Russia, India and Iran, in the management of vital natural resources such as oil and natural gas, and the recent American conflict in Afghanistan, have turned the region into one of the key focal points for academics, policy makers and practitioners.

This course offers students a unique opportunity to explore Central Asia’s place in world history, its forceful presence in the history of Islam, and its role as the great connecting link between East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

The course aims to acquaint students with the basic principles of the history of Central Asia, a region that corresponds geographically to today’s Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan), as well as adjacent historic regions of north-eastern Iran, northern Afghanistan, and western China (Xinjiang). Following introductory lectures on the history and geography of the region, we will survey, in a chronological order, the historical developments in the region, both in the sedentary areas, and in the steppes, beginning with the rise of Islam and the Arab conquest of the region, and concluding in the late-Soviet era

Special themes that will be addressed include:

Trade, migrations and exchange of ideas and goods along the Silk Road.
The rise and fall of great empires (Chinggis Khan, Tamerlane).
The region’s gradual conversion to Islam.
Central Asia as a “frontier zone.”
The symbiotic relationship between nomadic and urban-based civilizations.
The unique interaction between Turks and Iranians in Central Asian history.
The Great Game or, the scramble for Central Asia.
Colonization and nation building.

Prerequisites:  No prerequisites are necessary.


Svat Soucek, A history of inner Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Additional readings will be distributed in class or accessed on-line.
Many of the readings are drawn from primary sources (in English translation, of course). Students should bring those readings with them to our Wednesday meetings and should be prepared to discuss them in some detail.

Requirements & Grading:

A midterm exam (questions will be given in advance); a final, take-home exam; a silent map quiz on the second week of classes; active contribution to the class discussions. Undergraduate students will write a short critique on a book of their choosing as their term assignment. Graduate students will write a short term paper and will also be responsible for instructing the class about their project. I will circulate a separate communiqué regarding the assignments and their deadlines.
Grade distribution: midterm (25%), Final (25%), term project (30%), discussions & quiz (20%).