Teaching the Silk Roads

photo: a map I made for the book chapter highlighting regions, geographical features and sites mentioned throughout the text

About two years ago I was invited to contribute to a new college-level art history survey textbook. I could not pass up the opportunity to squeeze ancient Eurasia into a standard first-year art history survey! The chapter, entitled “Art and Architecture of the Silk Roads,” will first appear in a beta edition of Art and its Histories, edited by Heather Horton and Maya Muratov, which is published by Cognella Publishing.

Focusing on first millennium CE Eurasia, the chapter introduces students to 45 objects, monuments, and sites. Rather than following threads of culture, chronology, or geography, this introduction unfolds material culture through themes. By moving through themes, shared elements across diverse cultures emerge, highlighting the cross-cultural exchanges that took place in visual culture. It likewise draws attention to the differences that make a particular culture, time, or place unique. The six thematic sections are Leadership and Governance, Status and Society, the City and the Home, Religion and the Divine, Entertainment and Pastimes, and Dress and Fashion. A sample of monuments and objects are discussed in each section; the selection of objects are not meant to be comprehensive by any means, but jumping points into different facets of life along the Silk Roads. The sections start with Greater Iran and western and eastern Central Asia, and then push out towards northern India, the Steppe, and the eastern Mediterranean.