Other Sources

Suggested Readings and Videos

The various readings, videos and podcasts discussed below are “suggested,” not required reading. For any one class session, you will be notified in advance if something really is required reading for that class session. On the other hand, these are all worthwhile materials that will give a great introduction to the topics at hand. Explore and enjoy!

PDF:  Books and articles that are accompanied by the letters PDF are available on request from the course coordinator.

Please contact the coordinator for help if you have difficulty getting access to any of these materials.


The Internet Archive    -- see https://archive.org/   is “a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, the print disabled, and the general public. Our mission is to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge.”  This is a wonderful resource for obscure and not so obscure documents and books that are not subject to copyright.

Most if not all of Stein’s major publications –- of which there are many -- are available at the Internet Archive for free. See: https://archive.org/search.php?query=aurel%20stein

Project Gutenberg is an international non-profit organization devoting to placing as many printed books of historical and cultural importance on the web, where it is freely to all for downloading.  Major and minor works of literature from many cultures are readily available now, and more are becoming available all the time. See:  https://www.gutenberg.org/

Xenophon Group International is a history organization that maintains, among many other things,  a great collection relating to Aurel Stein’s publications and photographs from his expeditions. The index for their Stein collection is at this web address:  http://www.xenophon-mil.org/china/centralasia/steinindex.htm.    Note: Click on the blue dot next to each document on this website to see it.

The Silkroad Foundation is a non-profit organization, established in 1996, to promote the study and preservation of cultures and art on Inner Asia and the Silk Road. The Silkroad Foundation provides resources, information, and interactive exchange toward the pursuit of educating the Bay Area community about Inner Asia and the Silk Road.  See: http://www.silkroadfoundation.org/

The International Dunhuang Project  See: http://idp.bl.uk   IDP is an international collaboration to make information and images of all manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artifacts from Dunhuang and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road freely available on the Internet and to encourage their use through educational and research programs.

Silk Road Seattle is a program of the University of Washington. The website makes available a large selection of original historical texts, maps and artwork and other information. See: https://depts.washington.edu/silkroadOne of those resources is Art of the Silk Road, a virtual (on-line) art exhibition which highlights the permanent collection of the Seattle Art Museum and includes as well many stunning objects from some of the other great museums of the world.

Digital Silk Road Project  is a digital humanities research project about creating digital archives of cultural heritage based on collaboration between informatics and humanities. See: http://dsr.nii.ac.jp/

Xenophon Group International is a history organization that maintains, among many other things,  a great collection relating to Aurel Stein’s publications and photographs from his expeditions. The index for their Stein collection is at this web address:  http://www.xenophon-mil.org/china/centralasia/steinindex.htm.    Note: Click on the blue dot next to each document on this website to see it.

Turkish Culture Portal – see  http://www.turkishculture.org.    Operated by the Turkish Cultural Foundation, the Portal is an open-source compendium of articles about all aspects of Turkish culture and history. Turks don’t live just in Turkey!  They are now and have always been an important and highly influential element in Central Asian civilization — long before some of them migrated to the place they called Turkey.

Encyclopædia Iranica is dedicated to the study of Iranian civilization in the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. See:  http:/www.Iranicaonline.org     It includes a wide array of information about various Central Asian regions, cities, ethnic groups and archeological sites. 

The website of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a treasure trove of images and informative essays on the art, history and culture of many Central Asian and East Asian peoples.  See the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History at   www.Metmuseum.org

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre is a major resource, with maps, photos, historical and cultural essays and other information about sites of major historical and archeological significance in most countries.         https://whc.unesco.org/en/list

The UNESCO History of Civilizations of Central Asia is a six-volume series, readable on the Web, with each volume focusing on a period of centuries, from prehistory to the present.  It gives a well organized and accessible portrait of the history and cultures of many cultures and ethnic groups.  The online table of contents, with links to each chapter, makes it extremely easy to search for the time period and culture that you want to learn about.

Ancient History Encyclopedia -- see  https://www.ancient.eu --  calls itself  “a non-profit company publishing the world's most-read history encyclopedia.”  It is an international organization based in England.  A good source for sound information on Central Asian history, including art history. 


Books relating to Xuanzang

The Silk Road Journey with Xuanzang, by Sally Hovey Wriggins  The saga of the seventh-century Chinese monk Xuanzang, who completed an epic sixteen-year journey to discover the heart of Buddhism at its source in India. One of China's great heroes, Xuanzang is introduced here to Western readers in this richly illustrated book, with maps and text showing his itinerary in detail.  Note that about half of this work describes travels inside India, and the rest is about the journey from Chng’An to India through Central Asia and return through Central Asia back to China.  Available from Amazon for as little as $8.00.

The Life of Xuanzang (Hieun-Tsiang) by the Shaman Hwui Li is available online at The Internet Archive, where it can be downloaded to your computer or tablet without charge. This is Xuanzang’s own account of his life and travels, as dictated to one of his assistants at the time when he was also engaged in the 20-year project of translating the Buddhist texts he had brought back from India. See: https://archive.org/details/ajf4729.0001.001.umich.edu/page/n3

Books relating to Aurel Stein 

Journeys on the Silk Road: A Desert Explorer, Buddha's Secret Library, And The Unearthing Of The World's Oldest Printed Book,  by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters  Sold by: Amazon.com and abebooks.com for prices starting at around $6.00.

A detailed account of Aurel Stein’s second expedition (1906) on the Silk Road, from India to Kashgar, China, to Khotan and Dunhuang.  Gives a vivid account of the rigors of travel through mountains and deserts on camel, horseback and mule, with a multinational support crew that includes a Chinese scholar, an Indian cook, and laborers from many cultures. Describes the scholarly and multilingual Stein’s heroic accomplishments as a surveyor and mapmaker as well as his deep knowledge of Sanskrit and Chinese histories and other ancient resources (including Xuanzang and Marco Polo) that guide his archeological research as well as his navigation of barely discoverable mountain and desert trails. There are few illustrations.

Ruins of Desert Cathay: A Personal Narrative of Explorations in Westernmost China, 1906-1909, by M. Aurel Stein

For the more ambitious reader, The Ruins of Desert Cathay is Stein’s personal journal of his 1906-1908 expedition, written on the basis of notes he wrote every night in his tent, regardless of the weather or the circumstances.  It is available online at The Internet Archive, where it can be downloaded without charge.  Volume I of Ruins follows Stein from India via the Pamirs and Kashgar to the approaches to Dunhuang.  Volume II describes his visit to Dunhuang and the Mogao Caves in detail, and then portrays his further Silk Road explorations and his return to India after a dangerous crossing of the Taklamakan Desert. His account is presented in clear, plain language that is so well done that reading limited passages anywhere in the journal is rewarding, even if you don’t choose to read the whole book.

Stein says,   “The purpose of these volumes is to furnish the general reader with a personal record of the archaeological and geographical explorations which, during the years 1906-1908, I carried out under the orders of the Government of India in remote parts of Central Asia and westernmost China.”.  Various editions exist and are available on Amazon.  Free copies are available at the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/search.php?query=aurel%20stein

Aurel Stein on the Silk Road, by Susan Whitfield.

A shorter but still very interesting book with a lot of great photos of Stein and his team, the locations they visited, and reproductions of ancient art, with accounts of Stein’s life, his expeditions and Xuanzang’s travels as well. Compared to Journeys on the Silk Road, the Whitfield book is wonderful because of its reproductions of Silk Road artwork, photos taken by Stein on his expeditions, and other photos about his life. It devotes fewer pages to the 1906-1908 expedition than does Journeys. Available for about $20.00 at Amazon


Other Recommended Books


Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road Getty Conservation Institute Available for about $40 used at Amazon.  Outstanding! Extensive photos of caves, art, landscape plus maps  Bio of Xuanzang and account of Stein expedition. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1606064894/ref=cm_sw_r_em_api_c_giroBbA1BW6AQ

The Art of Gandhara in the Metropolitan Museum by Kurt A. Behrendt   See  https://books.google.com/books?id=MJ3eCZVlT48C&printsec=frontcover&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

The Silk Road: A New History, by Valerie Hansen describes the remarkable archeological finds that revolutionize our understanding of these trade routes. Hansen explores seven oases along the road, from Xi'an to Samarkand, where merchants, envoys, pilgrims, and travelers mixed in cosmopolitan communities, tolerant of religions from Buddhism to Zoroastrianism. There was no single, continuous road, but a chain of markets that traded between east and west. China and the Roman Empire had very little direct trade. Available from Amazon for as little as $15.00.https://www.amazon.com/Silk-Road-New-History/dp/0190218428/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1545516120&sr=8-2&keywords=the+silk+road+a+new+history


Religions of the Silk Road: Premodern Patterns of Globalization      (2nd Edition), by Richard Foltz  Drawing on the latest research and scholarship, this newly revised and updated edition of Religions of the Silk Road explores the majestically fabled cities and exotic peoples that make up the romantic notions of the colonial eraUsed copies are available on Amazon for about $37. 


The Silk Road:  Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia, by Frances Wood      An excellent book.  Covering more than 5,000 years, this book, lavishly illustrated with photographs, manuscripts, and paintings from the collections of the British Library and other museums worldwide, presents an overall picture of the history and cultures of the Silk Road. It also contains many previously unpublished photographs by the great explorers Stein, Hedin, and Mannerheim.  Available at Amazon for about $17.00.

Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age, by S. Frederick Starr, Princeton University Press, 2013. An outstanding account and analysis of the explosion in Central Asian intellectual life, art and culture during the period from 750 to 1150 CE.  Starr traces the pre-history and pre-Islamic civilizations of Central Asia before persuasively making the case that its Golden Age was at least the equal of the European Renaissance and the Enlightenment.  Central Asian cities and royal courts drew upon the scholarly, architectural and artistic traditions of China, Persia and South Asia, as well as several major religions: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Manicheanism and Islam.  The Silk Road was the engine of this cultural development, bringing foreign traders, prophets and high-level engineering and medical talent to the entire region.  Conquerors from Cyrus and Alexander to Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, unfortunately, also followed the Silk Road.  Available from the Ocean State Libraries. Used copies are available on Amazon for as little as $11.00.


Samarkand, Bukara, Khiva, by Pierre Chuvin. Flammarion, 2003.  Lusciously illustrated with the Islamic art and architecture of these cities, this is also a well-researched and professional account of their history and culture.  It’s also, unfortunately, expensive:  Used copies are available on Amazon starting at $122.  It’s worth buying if you can afford it!  Available from the Ocean State Libraries. 



"The Eurasian Steppe" — Wikipedia  10 pages/easy reading, including illustrations.      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurasian_Steppe

The Tarim Basin – Wikipedia   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarim_Basin

“Gandhara Civilization,”  by Muhammed Bin Naveed.  See https://www.ancient.eu/Gandhara_Civilization.

The Travel Records of Chinese Pilgrims Faxian, Xuanzang, and Yijing By Tansen Sen.  This essay puts Xuanzang’s journey in its historical context – in which he was only the best known of a legion of Chinese pilgrims who made the journey to India over the centuries before and after him.

See: http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/travel_records.pdf


Xuanzang on the Silk Road, by Sally Hovey Wriggins. 10 pages. 

This  essay provides a very compressed account of Xuanzang’s life and travels, which she later explored at length in book form in  The Silk Road Journey with Xuanzang. See: http://www.mongolianculture.com/indomongolian.htm



Open Source Civilization and the Unexpected Origins of the Silk Road    by Michael Frachetti: 1 hour, 28 minutes

See http://longnow.org/seminars/02018/feb/26/open-source-civilization-unexpected-origins-silk-road/

This terrific video on iTunes features an archeologist whose recent work has demonstrated that the “Silk Roads” resulted from the culture, travels and trading practices of nomads more than 4,000 years ago.  Wheat, millet, jade and bronze were among the goods being passed along the Silk Roads by nomads long before silk was a significant commodity.

“Colin Thubron : The Silk Road,”  is a 45-minute video featuring this writer’s trip by train, bus, camel and truck across Sinkiang Province (Western China) in 1980 – along the same route travelled 1,300 years earlier by Xuanzang.  It gives wonderful look at the spectacular scenery of the Taklamakan desert and surrounding mountain chains, and at the gradually changing way of life of the traditional occupants of the area.   This is not to be confused with the other videos discussed below.

Go to:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WvOEAMsxk4&index=38&list=PLRZ0KdLRXJgCDEcCRDuTekDWyTPIDj1_6&t=0s


“The Silk Road I” and “The Silk Road II” video series on YouTubeThe Silk Road I and II Playlists

YouTube:  The Silk Road I Playlist    See  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLILRQ_uVCaoOtZ6Q6egVvUyEMhbN7OG9y

The Silk Road II Playlist   See  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6PRUprO-7R06U-dSuUI7mxIxlcPkfZWo     

All Episodes are about 45 to 50 minutes in length.

“The Silk Road I” and “The Silk Road II”  are a documentary television series produced by Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) that first aired throughout the 1980s. The first series was jointly produced with China's CCTV, which began filming in September 1979. The 12-part series covers segments of the Silk Road from Xi'an to Kashgar up to the Chinese borders with Pakistan and the former Soviet Union. All Episodes are about 45 to 50 minutes in length.


The Silk Road I - 3 of 12 - The Art Gallery in the Desert. 47-minute video. This episode of the Japanese Silk Road series visits the Dun-Huang Mogao Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, their art treasures and enigmatic Library Cave.

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzQdeSSPiXQ&t=331s




“The Silk Road”  The  BBC’s In Our Time program host Melvyn Bragg and his BBC guests Tim Barrett, Naomi Standen and Frances Wood discuss the Silk Road, the trade routes which spanned Asia for over a thousand years, carrying Buddhism to China and paper-making and gunpowder westwards..

See https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00p315t   45 minutes