Week 1: Disorientation

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Sven Anders Hedin

23 April 2016: the mysterious west, frozen deserts, flaming mountains, a wall to keep in the civilized

We’ll begin our exploration of Central Eurasia with basics: locations, climates, languages, cultures and peoples. In an attempt to understand the perceptions of the authors we will get to know, we begin by looking at the region in several different ways for new perspectives on Central Eurasia.

In preparation for the first class, I’ve selected a few texts meant to introduce you to a couple of my favorite explorers, learn a little about the extremes of geography, and give you some idea of the span of time and peoples we’ll encounter in this class. Read as little or as much as you like–this is meant to be fun, after all, so I hope you find something in these following readings to entertain you.

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Readings for Week 1:

  1. Bradsher, Keith. “Hauling New Treasures Along the Silk Road.” New York Times, 20 July 2013. This is an interesting look into an unusual present-day overland commercial trade of Hewlett-Packard computers. Be sure to look at the interactive map that accompanies the article.
  2. The second reading is from Herdotus, Book Four of The Histories. This section covers what the Greeks knew of Central Eurasian peoples, primarily the Scythians. I hope you’ll find this as interesting as I do: his description of the many strange things he’s heard from others is truly fascinating. I’ve provided all of Book Four, but read whatever interests you. If you want to target your reading on the most informative parts of Book Four (as I see it, anyway) pay special attention to these sections: 4.1 – 4.31, 4.46 – 4.47, 4.59 – 4.83, 4.102 – 4.142
  3. Hedin, Sven Anders. My Life as and Explorer. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Adventure Classics, 2003 (1925). If you buy
    no other book throughout the rest of this course, you should at least own this one. Hedin is the prototype of our idea of the desert explorer–and this book is one of the best adventure memoirs in print.
  4. Cable, Mildred and Francesca French. The Gobi Desert. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1945. The personality you encounter in this travelogue is all Mildred Cable–I suspect she included French on the title page out of kindness, as she doesn’t seem to have actually contributed much to the writing. Cable was a character of rare proportions and her intrepidness, sense of humor, sensitivity and audacity are rare in a missionary account of the early 20th century.

Next week: The Farmer and the Cowman

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