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Crossing the Roof of the World

A one-day conference on people and geopolitics in Trans-Himalayan trade presented by the UCLA Central Asia Initiative

Friday, February 19, 2010
12:00 PM - 5:00 PM
UCLA Faculty Center
Los Angeles, CA 90095

This conference focuses on the political, economic, and social significance of trans-Himalayan trading systems and the role trade has played in linking different ecological zones and societies within Central Asia and extending outward to South, Southeast, and East Asia.  Traditionally this trade was based on caravans using pack animals and required traversing great distances and inhospitable terrain, including some of the world’s highest mountain passes.  While the long-distance trade of luxury items such as silk may be better known, Central Asia also was crossed by subsidiary networks of shorter distances that linked nomadic pastoralists to settled farming communities and provided a means to supplement locally specialized productive systems.  Traders transported both  humble domestic necessities and goods of great value; these items included tea, wool, salt, grain, fruit, medicinal plants, building stone, as well as precious metals, gems, artworks, horses, and other livestock.  By providing access to essential commodities and high-value goods, trans-Himalayan trade supported larger population aggregations than otherwise could exist in harsh high altitude and arid climates and provided the foundation for merchant towns along the major routes.

The conference papers will discuss both short- and long-distance trade at far-flung nodes of these trading networks, ranging from western China to Afghanistan and India, and across time, from antiquity to the present. On the one hand, they will consider key geographical, historical, and political factors that alternatively hindered or facilitated regional linkages-including the impacts of colonialism, nation-state formation, and modernization on trade. On the other hand, they will examine these processes and events from the perspectives of the communities involved and show how the need to compensate for local resource deficiencies and the need to stabilize political relationships led seemingly remote, geographically isolated, and culturally closed societies to engage with the outside world.  The papers will illuminate the impact of trade on local cultures and on individuals in these interconnected communities, demonstrating how trade involves not only the exchange of material goods, but also the interchange of people and ideas.


12:00-2:00: Panel 1

Randall Law, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Harappan Interaction with the Himalaya Region and Beyond

Arash Khazeni, Claremont McKenna College
The City of Balkh and the Caravan Trade of Nineteenth-Century Central Eurasia

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, James Madison University 
The Commercial, Cultural and Geographic Ranges of Afghan Nomads

Discussant: Nile Green, UCLA

2:30-4:30: Panel 2

Nancy Levine, UCLA
Subsistence Trade and Regional Linkages in the Himalayas

Yudru Tsomu, Lawrence University
Indigenous Agents in the Zone of Contact: Tibetan Inn-Keepers as Middlemen in the Sino-Tibetan Borderland

Willem van Spengen, University of Amsterdam
Beyond Annapurna or How to Interpret Success in Himalayan Trade

Discussant: Monica Smith, UCLA

4:30-5:00: Conclusions and Reflections
Sanjay Subrahmanyam, UCLA


Cost: free

Special Instructions

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For more information please contact

Nick Menzies

Tel: 310-825-0007

Sponsor(s): Asia Institute, Program on Central Asia

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