The Research Centre Indian Ocean – RIO, jointly with its partners, is organizing an International Conference on “The Silk Roads by Land and Sea”, at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech).
In one of its most basic aims, this conference seeks to contribute to the emerging field of “mobility studies”. It offers a venue for empirical, but also theoretical and methodological, studies concerned with the historical movements of people and things, both on sea and on land. By looking at the mobility of human beings, animals, plants and material objects, but also of ideas, ideologies, models of statecraft, modes of consumption, technologies, information, ritual ideas and practices, philosophies, life-styles, fashions, or bodily expressions, we also like to draw attention, not only to the routes of travel, but also to special places where movements are set in motion, but also stopped. Hence, this conference is not only about the routes along which travel takes place, but it is also concerned with the most salient hubs that make circulation and flows possible, or else provide blockages. And it is looking at the internal qualities and dynamics of these hubs that do not just transport things, but also transform and translate the meanings, values and functions of the things that arrive and stay there for a while.
The term Silk Road(s) was first coined in 1877 for the overland roads by Ferdinand von Richthofen to describe the overland networks between the Eastern Mediterranean and China.
In 2014, “The Silk Roads: The Routes Network of Chang’an – Tian-shan Corridor” were inscribed on the World Heritage List as serial nomination of one important section of Silk Roads by Land. An attempt to place the Indian ‘Project Mausam’ on the World Heritage List is so far in its initial stage; ‘Mausam’ – the Arabic word mawsim referring to the season when it is safe for boats to set their sails – aims at connecting countries of the Indian Ocean culturally and economically.
Accordingly, the term Silk Road(s) shall here refer to any form of a trade route between the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia, by Land and Sea.
Silk Roads by Land and Sea: A short overview
Along these routes, besides the trades, sciences, arts, literature, and crafts and technologies were also disseminated into and appropriated by local societies. In this way, cultures, religions, and economies developed and influenced one another. Latest with the Third Millennium BC maritime networks between the Indus Valley Civilization and Mesopotamia, Bahrain, and Oman are proven. Subsequently, these maritime networks expanded throughout the Indian Ocean World. A major intervention was the expansion and predominance of the Roman Empire and the relocation of the capital from Damascus (Umayyad) to Baghdad (Abbasid) during the early Islamic period, the latter strongly influencing both Roads. However, these long-standing communication and trade networks changed substantially with the intrusion of the Portuguese and the following European powers after the 15th century into the Indian Ocean World. The collapse of the Byzantine Empire with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 was the primary reason for the closure of the land network and its replacement by the discovery of the sea route to India by Vasco da Gama. However, thereafter and over time, the overland networks were resumed by different protagonists. The maritime European expansion after 1500 led to the colonialism of modern times and in one way or the other continues to this day.
Current initiatives to re-activate the historic networks both by land and by sea include the Chinese program ‘One Belt, one Road’ (OBOR) whereas the Indian Union project “Mausam” focuses on the maritime historic Indian networks in the Indian Ocean World.
Through a comparative, multidisciplinary, and diachronic approach between these two land and sea networks, this conference attempts a further reading of the past to shed light on the present and visualize the future of the areas along with these networks.
The conference will take place at the beginning of 2022 at the German University of Technology GUtech, Halban, Oman. Pre- and post- conference activities shall be offered if the situation allows.
The event is primarily planned as a face-to-face conference with additional digital participation on a Zoom platform.
The event will be structured around five sections, namely Cultural Heritage, Natural Sciences, Humanities and History of Religions, Social Anthropology, and finally, Historic Politics and Economics. Dealing with these five sections, the presentations will take place in two parallel strings: “Silk Roads by Land” and “Silk Roads by Sea”. After every day, all participants will join for a cross-reference discussion that shall end with a final conference resolution.
The Conference Logo
The Silk Routes and the movements connected with them are portrayed in the conference logo through the graphic representation of a ship and a camel, سفينة الصحراء, “Safinat al Sahra” in Arabic (the ship of the desert).