There are as many ways to define a continent as there are to define a culture. Central Asia lies at the intersection of two great global civilizations, Classical China and the Islamic Middle East. For over a millennium, the religious, military, economic, and artistic forces generated by these cultures clashed, mingled, and sometimes melded with one another. The aim of this online gallery is to suggest the wide range of these interactions, which shaped a vast expanse of territory into cultural patterns that remain significant today.

Informed by their immersion in the history of Islam and China, and motivated by the discovery of a ‘civilization’ often maligned in both these traditions—the Mongols—students in GHS 208 have investigated the many ways in which cultures overlapped to create new political situations and forms of religious expression. From iconic events or single artifacts to sweeping transformations of entire societies, these examples yield insights, both panoramic and intimate, into the adaptability and tenacity of human customs.

Within the limited scope of a one-semester course, we have tried to present information and interpretations that are accurate and revealing, as well as respectful toward their subjects. We welcome feedback and dialogue. One of the best ways to appreciate change in our own time is to study it in the past with as few preconceptions as possible.

Header Image: Left: Archer (Persia) (by Steven Zucker, 2012, CC BY-NC-SA), Center: Shahnama (Book of Kings) (by Muhammad Zaman, c. 1663, public domain), Right: The Great Wall Stretches Across the Sunset (by Trey Ratcliff, 2011, CC BY-NC-SA).

Islamic Architecture and Its Influences

Islam and African Art Relations

Islamic Architecture in Mosques Around the World

Umayyad Mosque

Islamic Influence on Arabic Music

Turkish Rugs

The Shahnameh

Chagatay: An Ancient Language

Mongolian Conversion to Islam

Hussain Ibn Ali and his Head

China and Islam: The Hui People

Early Islamic Encounters

The Battle of Qadisiyyah

Persian Empire

The Mongolian Empire

Assassins, The Mahdi, ISIS