Fashioning Central Eurasia

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fresco from the cave of 16 swordbearers, Kizil in the Kucha oasis; Museum für asiatische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin [image credit: Le Coq, Die buddhistische Spätantike in Mittelasien, 1922]
My first book project tentatively entitled, Fashioning Central Eurasia, investigates how a particular garment type, the kaftan, enabled transcultural communication systems for diverse communities stretching across Asia– from the Caucasus Mountains to the Gobi Desert– in the age of the Great Silk Roads.

Previous scholarship has treated the kaftan as a ‘nomadic riding costume’ adopted by settled populations for practical reasons. However, my research illustrates that kaftans emerged as a new garment type in the fifth century CE, and communities embraced them for various reasons and wore them in complex ways. Cultural practices surrounding the kaftan determined who could wear it, when they wore it, and how they adorned or styled it. Communities connected such protocols to particular social occasions. Thus, I have structured my book around four case study chapters exploring the banquet in Sogdiana (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), the hunt in Iran, veneration of divinities in Kucha (western China), and the funeral in Alania (northern Caucasus, Russia). Some practices were unique to a community, while others were mutually intelligible across cultures. I argue that the kaftan’s novel design provided the denizens of diverse Eurasian communities with a sartorial language that could articulate mutable social distinctions across cultures and for various social occasions. The sartorial systems revolving around the kaftan allowed locals and foreigners alike to navigate an increasingly cosmopolitan first millennium CE Central Eurasia.

This book project builds on my doctoral dissertation, which I defended in March 2020 in the Department of the History of Art at Cornell University entitled, “The Age of the Polychrome Kaftan: Sartorial Systems of Central Eurasia 400-900 CE.”