Week 2: The Farmer and the Cowman

30 April 2016: savage nomads and civilized agriculturalists, a dual dependency

This week, we look into the pervasive issue of pastoralism vs./and/or agriculture which has long been on the minds of scholars, travelers and residents of Central Eurasia. As we learned last week, modes of subsistence evolved in response to land and climate. Most peoples in Central Eurasia identify as either pastoral nomads or settled agriculturalists. Cultural differences and resource demands also correspond to this divide. We’ll discuss the many types of pastoralism, the varied agriculture and the dependency between the societies associated with each.

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Readings for Week 2:

  1. There are four articles from National Geographic that help to illuminate the pastoralist/agriculturalist relationship. In class, I’ll make a case that basically all written sources are produced by agriculturalists and those made possible by them. For our purposes, this gives us some interesting material with which to work: it means that we read about all nomadic pastoralist societies through the words of settled agriculturalists. Think about this as you read any or all of the following four articles:
    1. Ellsworth Huntington, “Life in the Great Desert of Central Asia,” from the August, 1909 issue.
    2. Edward Murray, “With the Nomads of Central Asia,” January, 1936.
    3. Candice Millard and David Edwards, “Hunting with Eagles,” September, 1999.
    4. Glenn Hodges and Gordon Wiltsie, “Mongolian Crossing,” October, 2003.
  2. Plano Carpini, John. Mission to Asia. John of Plano Carpini, Franciscan friar, was sent as an envoy to the Mongols in 1245 – 1247 by Pope Innocent IV. His short account of his travels and observations would have been some of the first eyewitness descriptions of Central Eurasian nomadic peoples ever read by Europeans. His observations are remarkably similar to those of Herodotus (which we read for Week 1), Sima Qian and Marco Polo (see below).
  3. Nava’i, “A Comparison Between Persian and Turkic,” ~1500. This may seem a little out of place until we talk about the long relationship between Persians and Turks in the various imperial projects in Central Eurasia. In short, there is a long tradition of Turkic peoples (or Mongolian, but always nomadic pastoralist) serving as the military half of an empire and Persians making up the bureaucracy. A lot of reflection on this was done by both camps and this is an example of one of those attempts to explain why it was so.
  4. Marco Polo, Book 1, Chapters LII – LV. 1323?. You knew it wouldn’t be long before we were reading Marco Polo. His observations of the Mongols can most easily be compared to those of John of Plano Carpini.
  5. Sima Qian, notes on the Xiongnu, ~145 – 90 BC. I’ve seen him called the “Herodotus of China,” though I dare say that Sima Qian was considerably more careful about his sources and definitely more dedicated to his work: as punishment for standing up for a rebellious officer, he was sentenced to be castrated, a punishment not usually carried out because it was considered honorable to commit suicide, instead. Rather than do so–and abandon his half-finshed historical project–he opted for the castration and finished what is now called Records of the Grand Historian, from which this excerpt is taken.
  6. John Hare, Chapter 6, “Death’s Shadow at the Door” from Mysteries of the Gobi. This is an interesting chapter that highlights the impact of settled, agricultural society on fragile marginal lands in the present. Besides that, it’s a fascinating chapter that I think you’ll enjoy.

Last week: Disorientation

Next week: A Smorgasbord of Beliefs

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