A programme of Silk Road talks.

To complement the exhibition, the Aga Khan Foundation is running a series of talks to explore the cultural, economic, and social heritage of the countries, cities and regions that lie along the Silk Road.


Travelling the Silk Road: from London to Beijing

Join us for a conversation with Christopher Wilton-Steer, creator of ‘The Silk Road: A Living History’ exhibition, who will discuss his 40,000km (mostly) overland journey across Eurasia in 2019.

Over a period of four months, Christopher travelled by car, bus, train, ferry, horse and camel from London to Beijing traversing sixteen countries.

Restoring the Values of the Past: Creating A School of Music in Tajikistan

In this talk Otambek Mastibekov will share why he felt compelled to establish a music school in Tajikistan that focused on the teaching and promotion of madḥiya-khānī, the devotional songs and music of the Badakhshani/Pamiri Ismaili Muslims.

Madḥiya is a poetic genre in Persian and Arabic literature. For the Ismaili Muslims of the Silk Road: Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Western China and Northern Pakistan, madḥiya is devotional singing that embodies the art of music, religion, philosophy and ethics. Known in the region as madḥiya-khānī (singing madḥiya) or qaṣīda-khānī (singing qaṣīda), its origin goes back, according to tradition, to the 11th century poet, philosopher and traveller Nāṣir Khusraw (1004-1088 CE).

Travelling the Silk Road from East to West: How a 14th century Mongol pilgrim became the leader of the church in Iraq

In this talk, Professor Philip Wood examines the lives of Barsauma and Mark, Christian pilgrims from Mongolia who became important players in the politics of 14th century Iraq. This session will explore the conditions under which long distance overland travel and the spread of ideas and personnel across Eurasia was possible during this period.

Professor Wood will also discuss some of the unusual diplomatic links between the East and the West in this period, such as the attempt by the Mongol Ilkhan to organise a crusade against Jerusalem in alliance with the Pope and the king of France.

This talk will highlight how Christianity in the 14th century was not only a European phenomenon and how the Christian communities that this pilgrim encountered in Central Asia had rich histories going back to the 6th and 7th centuries.

Trade, Heritage and Landscape along the Silk Roads

During this webinar chaired by Professor Stéphane Pradines, Professor Roland Lin and Professor Michael Jansen will discuss the Silk Roads and networks between Asia, Africa and Europe.

The experts will focus particularly on the land and maritime routes in Central Asia and the Indian Ocean. With some historical and archaeological examples, the discussants will show how Emporiums, city-States and thalassocracies were created around commercial networks. Along the Silk Roads, not only products were exchanged but people circulated bringing with them new ideas, cultures, and religions such as Buddhism and Islam.

The panelists will develop the idea of intangible heritage along the Silk Roads, and they will share their long-time experience on how to preserve and promote heritage along the Silk Roads.

The Syrian Silk Industry, Computing and the Myth of Queen Elizabeth II’s Wedding Gown

In this talk Russell Harris will discuss his interest in the Syrian silk industry, which was inspired mainly by a mammoth bout of shopping some years ago in the Suq al-Hamidiyya in Damascus.

Russell will discuss the long-kept secret of silk manufacture and how the technology reached the Middle East. He will touch on various points of immense interest to world history, such as the connection between the Jacquard loom and the beginnings of modern computing, the method of producing a ‘programme’ that can create the various patterns of the particular weave of silk termed ‘brukar’ (brocade), and the by-product of the Syrian silk industry (fresh mulberry juice). He will also debunk a commonly repeated myth that Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth wore a wedding dress of Syrian silk.

Sport and Nation Building along the Silk Road: Football and identity politics

In many states along the Silk Road, there is a strong link between sport and national identity. Various sports are promoted as ancient as the state itself, and become associated with an identity politics upheld by the state. In recent decades, football has challenged other sports and has become a global dominant force particularly when it comes to finances and popularity.

Football fans from Turkey in the west to China in the east support their local and national teams. Football today is not only a dominant financial player, clubs across the world are also supported by religious and ethnic communities and are represented at various political levels. This talk by Leif Stenberg, Dean of Aga Khan University International – Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, will present and discuss the role sports, especially football, play within several local and national contexts in countries along the Silk Road.

The Idea of the Silk Road: Historians Debate and Discuss This Modern Concept

Among idealised models of premodern connectivities few can compete with the appeal of the Silk Road and the way it projects modern notions of open trade and cultural exchange, religious and racial tolerance, and dialogue onto the past. While invented barely 150 years ago, the Silk Road is now probably the most famous and most frequently cited road as a quick Google search will confirm.

Khodadad Rezakhani will discuss the use and abuse of the term in the field of world history and how the term reinforces eurocentric historiography. Revisiting the coining of the term (die Seidenstrasse) in 1877 by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen, Arezou Azad will discuss what we actually know about trade and commerce in Central Asia in antiquity, and how the idea enables modern economic, cultural, and infrastructure projects to integrate the region. Zhan Zhang will draw attention to the reinvention of the Silk Road in China from the late twentieth century onwards. Finally, Aslisho Qurboniev will discuss the reception of the idea of the Silk Road in Central Asia, a region that is central to the idea, from the 19th century to the Soviet and post-Soviet period.

The event will be chaired by AKU-ISMC’s Professor Sarah Bowen Savant.

Interaction between Silk Road Communities: Ismaili Inscriptions and Manuscripts as Witness

This talk by Dr Karim Javan from the IIS-Ismaili Special Collections Unit, presents some aspects of social interaction between different communities of the Silk Road in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and India. The findings presented in this talk are based on textual documents found among Ismaili communities of these regions or inscriptions on rock or gravestones related to the Ismaili Imams in central Iran around Anjudan and Mahallat. The inscriptions that will be shared in this presentation were almost unknown to contemporary Western scholars of Ismaili studies and were identified during recent field work that took place in 2018.

Travelling the Silk Road – a practical guide

Have you ever dreamed of travelling along the Silk Road, of visiting the architectural wonders of Iran, shopping in the ancient bazaars of Uzbekistan, traversing the Pamir mountains of Central Asia or tasting the culinary delights of Western China but weren’t sure how to start planning such a trip?

Then please join us for this talk by four seasoned Silk Road travellers who will share their varied experiences of journeying along the world’s most celebrated trade route.

Jonny Bealby and Marc Leaderman from Wild Frontiers, writer Caroline Eden and photographer Christopher Wilton-Steer will discuss how to travel the Silk Road, when to go, the challenges of travelling independently, what’s it like to travel as a woman, how to give back to the communities encountered along the way, what’s it like if you are a vegetarian and much more.

The Pamiri House: A Case Study of Silk Road Dwellings in ‘the Roof of the World’

The focus of Dr Nourmamadcho Nourmamadchoev’s talk is places of dwelling along the Silk Road with a special focus on the Pamiri house which we referred to in the local language as Chid. The traditional Pamiri house, as the everyday living space reflects the ritualistic as well as symbolic worldview of the inhabitants of the Pamirs. This type of traditional house is prevalent in Badakhshan of Tajikistan and Afghanistan as well as in the northern areas of modern Pakistan.

The Pamiri house, with its long history, reflects the pre-Islamic as well as the Islamic cosmological worldview of the inhabitants of Badakhshan. In this presentation, Dr Nourmamadchoev will talk about the architectural design and will show and explain the symbolic meaning of various elements of the Pamiri house.

IIS Special Collections: A Journey along the Silk Road through Manuscripts and Coins

Through their associated stories and connectedness, heritage materials such as manuscripts and rare books help us understand areas through a historical lens.

This live stream, a first of its kind, will provide a glimpse into special items from the Institute of Ismaili Studies collection, including manuscripts and coins from regions along the Silk Road. Through a live display of special items, the stream will explore the story behind these items and their connectedness with each other.

The session will be led by Naureen Ali, a Cataloguer and Adlib Officer at Ismaili Special Collections Unit. Her work focuses on cataloguing, managing and collection care of special items, including Khojki and Gujarati materials.