Fall 2018

CORC 3206 The Development of the Silk Road


Professor Jennifer Ball

An exploration of the art and architecture of the Silk Road from China into Central Asia, with some attention to exports to Europe, from the Han Dynasty (2nd century BCE) until the Mongols (13th century CE). Some discussion of the contemporary Silk Road will also be included. Subjects covered: the history of art, the rise and interaction of Islam and Buddhism, and the economic and diplomatic context that facilitated the development and expansion of the Silk Road, the Silk Road today.

Class Tuesday/Thursday 11:00-12:15 5143B

Office and hours: 5111 Boylan Hall Thursdays 1-2 or by appointment

Email: jball@brooklyn.cuny.edu

Phone: 718.951.5181

Requirements and Grading:

5 quizzes (10% each; lowest one gets thrown out; total 40%)

Museum Assignment (10%) (detailed assignment attached)

Final Group Presentation (15%) (detailed assignment to be handed out)

Map project (10%)

Team assignments (10%)

Final essay exam (15%)

Required Texts:

We have an OER (online educational resource) for this class and all of the readings are posted there for the semester: https://cunybcsilkroad.wordpress.com/

Weekly Assignments:

Thursday August 25 Introduction

August 30 -September 6 The development of the Silk Road: The Han and Chang Ch’ien

August 30 Quiz 1 on Foltz ch. 1-2 reading

Read August 30: Foltz, chapter 1-2, The Silk Road and its Travelers

September 6 Archaeological investigations

Read: Barber, Mummies of Urumchi

Mehendale, Begram

September 8-15 Sogdiana: Cultural and Economic Crossroads

Read: Whitfield, The Merchant’s Tale

            Ciafaloni and Della Rocca de Cantal, “Sasanian Traditions in Sogdian Paintings”

September 20 All about silk: From Moriculture to Sericulture

            Quiz 2: On Silk terminology (study guide to be handed out)

Angela Sheng, “Textiles from the Silk Road”

September 22-September 29: Buddhism on the Silk Road

            September 22 Quiz 3: On Buddhism

            Read: Foltz, Chapter 3, Buddhism and the Silk Road

Whitfield, The Monk’s Tale, The Nun’s Tale, and The Artist’s Tale

Wu Hung, “Reborn in Paradise: A Case Study of Dunhuang Sutra Painting”

NO CLASS Tuesday October 4 college closed

NO CLASS Thursday October 6 conversion day; Monday schedule

NO CLASS Tuesday October 11 college closed

NO CLASS Thursday October 13

NO CLASS Friday October 14 (classes follow a Tuesday schedule but we will not have class)  

October 18 Religious Plurality

Read: Foltz, Chapter 4, A Refuge of Heretics: Nestorians and Manicheans

            Whitfield, Chapter 3-4, The Horseman’s Tale and The Princess’s Tale

            Museum Paper due in class (assignment at the end of the syllabus)

October 20- November 1 The Rise of Islam along the silk Road

October 20 Quiz 4: Islam on the Silk Road   

            Read: Foltz, Chapter 5, The Islamization of the Silk Road

Finbar Barry Flood. Between Cult and Culture: Bamiyan, Islamic Iconoclasm, and the Museum in Art Bulletin (2002) 84:4, 641-659. (access through JSTOR)

Ross E. Dunn, “Persia and Iraq,” in Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveller of the 14th Century

November 3-10: The Mongols

November 3 Quiz 5: The Mongols

Foltz, Chapter 6, Ecumenical Mischief

November 15-22: Europeans travel the Silk Road

Read: Foltz, Chapter 7, A Melting Pot No More

Excerpts from Gertrude Bell’s The Letters of Gertrude Bell

Excerpts from Langdon Warner’s journal

NO CLASS NOVEMBER 24 Thanksgiving

November 29-December 8: Group Presentations

Schedule TBA

Final Exam: Thursday December 15 10:30-12:30

Plagiarism and Cheating:

“The faculty and administration of Brooklyn College support an environment free from cheating and plagiarism. Each student is responsible for being aware of what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and for avoiding both. The complete text of the CUNY Academic Integrity Policy and the Brooklyn College procedure for implementing that policy can be found at this site: http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/bc/policies. If a faculty member suspects a violation of academic integrity and, upon investigation, confirms that violation, or if the student admits the violation, the faculty member MUST report the violation.”

-Brooklyn policy on Academic Integrity


  1. Be able to think critically and creatively, to reason logically, to reason quantitatively, and to express their thoughts orally and in writing with clarity and precision
  2. Students will learn about the arts, histories and cultures of Central Asia, surrounding the Silk Road through history, but particularly in the medieval period
  3. Understand what knowledge is and how it is acquired by the use of differing methods in different disciplines, such as archaeology, anthropology, history, art history, etc.
  4. Students will evaluate different types of evidence, especially archaeological, art historical, historical and literary both in class discussion and in writing
  5. Students will see works of art related to the Silk Road in New York City collections
  6. Students will have visited a museums with collections of East and Central Asian, and Islamic art

Museum Paper on Jerusalem: Every People Under God at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

DUE DATE: October 18

You must argue that Jerusalem is a city of the Silk Road using at least three objects from the exhibition. This is NOT a research paper, it is one where you use what you have learned in class thus far along with information from the labels in the exhibition. Your paper should be about 3-4 pages and must be handed in with a sketch and your museum receipt.


  1. Select objects that excite you in some way – visually, their history, or the type of object
  2. Select objects that demonstrate some movement along a trade route or are evidence of ideas that came from elsewhere
  3. Sketch your objects. Sketching it will get you into the act of seeing. You have to turn in the sketch to me; photographs are not acceptable.
  4. Write down the information on the label for each object: the date, maker, medium, etc. Check your spelling! If the label has a lengthy description or other information, remember that this is a source that must be cited if you use this information.
  5. Take notes in front of the objects to prepare to write.

-describe the object in full; pretend that you are describing it to a family member who is educated but knows little about this particular area. The reader should be able to imagine the object in his/her mind as you describe it so you need to take into account what the object is, its color, size, shape, material and the like.

-why did the artist make the choices he/she made? Is the material particularly important for its function? Is it very expensive/inexpensive? How do you think it was made? Why do you think the artist chose the style he/she chose – is it roughly hewn or childlike or simple or is it instead ornate? What type of message does this convey?

-how might this object relate to the silk road? Is it directly related to the marketplace? Perhaps it is an object that was widely imported/exported. Is it made in a silk road country but shows hybridity suggesting the importation of other cultures along the silk road? Perhaps it is an object that combines materials or subject matter from different places along the Silk Road.   Is it a religious object – did the religion move along the silk road? Can the object itself be easily transported? Or is it a monumental object whose ideas moved along the silk road? This is the section of the paper where you show me your original thinking.

  1. Write your paper based on your observations – do not do any research!! – this paper is about what you see and what you think, not about what you read. Each object should be described in 1-2 paragraphs for each object. The remaining paper should analyze these objects and their relationship to the Silk Road.
  2. The paper should be written in elegant prose and free from errors – please proofread!

A few tips:

– Your description should be objective and NOT include comments such as “This object is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” or “I chose this object because it caught my eye because it is beautiful.” That doesn’t help your family reader “see” the object.

– You do not have to be RIGHT about anything you say. If you make a reasonable assumption based on what you see, then you are doing the assignment correctly. E.g. “The letters in the book are written in gold.” NOT “The letters in the book are written in a gold-colored substance.” It’s ok if it is not actual gold, the first description is totally clear. OR “The carpet is small and rectangular, like a yoga mat and was possibly used for meditation.” This is a great observation and allows the reader to imagine a yoga-mat sized carpet and you to make an educated guess as to its use; it does not matter if the carpet turns out to be a prayer rug or not, you made a reasonable assumption.

-Just write about what you see and you will have plenty to say.

-There are several copies of Writing About Art in the Meier Bernstein Art library if you would like to have more help.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd St.