Lunch Talk: 'Creating the Silk Road: Trade, Travel and Mythology' – University of Copenhagen

Lunch Talk: 'Creating the Silk Road: Trade, Travel and Mythology'

Dr. Khodadad Rezakhani (Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow, Freie Universität Berlin) will speak about the concept of 'the Silk Road' in world history.

More information: The Silk Road, or Silk Route, is a name used today to refer to a supposed trade route of ancient Eurasia, its use bringing diferent images to mind. These are often of camel caravans on dusty roads, forbidding deserts, and exotic towns and “oases.” The concept as a whole tends to ignore realities such as geography and ecology, as well as political units, facts that become lost among the more potent romantic notions. While itineraries are presented at some length, actual places are forgotten, and it is supposed that a conventional “beginning” in China and a vague “destination” somewhere along the Mediterranean are enough. On the way, places such as Transoxiana, the Pamirs, Iran, and indeed the whole of the Near East are simply brushed aside and not much discussed.

The Silk Road has then become a grand narrative that serves mostly to obscure important details and sometimes even more. Dr. Rezakhani instead suggests not only that the concept of a continuous, purpose-driven road or even “routes” is counterproductive in the study of world history but also that it has no basis in historical reality or records.

Doing away with the whole concept of the “Silk Road” might do historians a world of good and actually let us study what in reality was going on in the region. Such a scheme would not be meant to deny or take away one of the useful concepts of world history. Indeed, the regions of Transoxiana, the Pamirs, and Turkistan / Tarim basin are great crucibles for the study of world history, and their study is quite central to understanding the progression of history and historical relations. However, it might be time to rethink the artiicial and nostalgic concept of the Silk Road and bring out what this narrative tends to conceal.

Dr. Rezakhani has a PhD from London School of Economics, has done extensive research on late antique Iran and Central Asia, and is currently employed by Freie Universität Berlin, where he is conducting research for two monographs on Sasanian history. During Dr. Rezakhani's visit to Denmark, there will also be two other events hosted in cooperation with Dansk-Iransk Selskab.

We kindly ask participants to read, in advance of the event, Dr. Rezakhani's article 'The Road that Never Was: The Silk Road and Trans-Eurasian Exchange', Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol. 30, No. 3 (2010): 420-433.

The article can be downloaded here.