Valerie Hansen to Lecture on Silk Road

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: Noelle.Lemoine@williams.edu

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., March 19, 2013—Valerie Hansen, professor of history at Yale University and Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, will present a lecture on Thursday, April 4. The talk, titled “The Silk Road: A New History,” will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Griffin Hall, room 3. The event is free and open to the public.

Hansen’s talk will aim to revise the image associated with the Silk Road of a single foreign merchant traveling via camel laden with goods. The discoveries of multiple artifacts and other excavated documents in Northwest China tell a different story. In reality, few people traveling along the Silk Road were long-distance merchants. Due to tight government supervision, merchants typically moved along circuits close to home and exchanged goods for other goods, often not using any coins. Other travelers along the Silk Road included missionaries, refugees, artists, and envoys. The most active community in China was the Sogdians, migrants from Samarkand and the surrounding areas. They built new homes in the small oasis-states surrounding the Taklamakan Desert whose rulers promoted religious tolerance and welcomed these newcomers into their realms.

Hansen’s fields of interest include the history of China to 1600, Chinese religious and legal history, and the history of the Silk Road. She started teaching at Yale University in 1988. She has published numerous books including The Silk Road: A New History (Oxford University Press, 2012), The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600 (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), and Changing Gods in Medieval China, 1127-1276 (Princeton University Press, 1990). Hansen’s work has been published in numerous English and Chinese language journals. From 1995 to 1998, Hansen was the principal investigator of a project funded by the Henry Luce Foundation called “The Silk Road Project: Reuniting Turfan’s Scattered Treasures,” that brought together a team of 25 Chinese and American scholars working within the disciplines of archaeology, history, art history, and religious studies.

Since 1956, the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s visiting Scholar Program has offered undergraduates the opportunity to hear from and spend time with some of the most distinguished scholars in the United States. The purpose of the program is to add to the intellectual life on campus.

The event is sponsored by the Williams College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

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