March 22 – Real and Virtual Curatorial Team Visit/Advanced Omeka Workshop

///March 22 – Real and Virtual Curatorial Team Visit/Advanced Omeka Workshop
March 22 – Real and Virtual Curatorial Team Visit/Advanced Omeka Workshop 2016-03-22T01:08:10-05:00

Class Plan

  • Guest Lecture by  J. Keith Wilson, Curator of Ancient Chinese Art, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institute
  • Advanced Omeka workshop: Exhibit Builder, Geolocation, Neatline


Review the catalogue Expedition Silk Road: Journey to the West, from the Hermitage (BGC | NYU) Skim, the whole catalogue, but make sure to review essays that seem relevant to your research and give particular attention to these sections:

  • Essays:
    • A Journey to the West An Introduction
    • A Summary History of Central Asia
    • The Art of Sogdiana
  • Catalogue:
    • Ustrushana
    • Sogdiana

Watch this video of a lecture by Pavel Lurje (a member of the advisory panel who is a researcher at the Hermitage) (59:05)


Post three questions based on the catalogue and the Lurje video


  1. Leslie March 21, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    In “A Summary History of Central Asia,” it says, “In addition to strategic motivations, the Chinese were led westwards by spiritual concerns and of course by simple curiosity. Just as the East represented something mystical for many Europeans, in China itself the West was a land of holiness, of sacred significance” (23). This got me thinking about Central Asia and its image. Why was the area seen as a spiritual nexus?

    On page 75 of “Other Religions on the Silk Road,” Lurje talks about religious texts such as “the sutra of Jesus,” other Christian texts, and inscriptions by Jews. I have come across so many readings that mentions items like this fleetingly. So I’m wondering, what do they say?! Do we know what they say beyond the fact that they are Christian and Jewish texts? How can I find out what these texts are and what they say from these vague descriptions? Can we read Sogdian because of its close relation to Yaghnobis mentioned in Lurje’s lecture?

    At the beginning of Pavel Lurje’s lecture, he shows a map of all the different languages along the “Southern Slik Road” (3:25). Throughout the lecture, he talks about different texts pointing out Sogdian names and Sogdian calligraphy. These are clear indications of Sogdians. However, since there were so many different languages spoken, is it possible that there are Sogdian texts in different languages that are mislabeled?

  2. Aleena Malik March 22, 2016 at 1:34 am

    In Pavel Lurje’s talk, he discusses the similarities between what is thought to be a Sogdian depiction of a god to images of Sogdian men in The Panjikent murals. Other than the mandala surrounding the image of the god, the men and god are incredibly similar (which is why the image of God is considered to be Sogdian in the first place). My question is why is a god and man depicted so similarly, where had the mandala not been surrounding him, the god would have been considered a common man? Also, is there a way to know more about what God from what religion is in that image? Are there any other indicators to give such details? Or is he just a ‘Sogdian’ god without any connection to a specific religion?

    I’m also interested in the documents containing both Chinese and Sogdian script. At one point Lurje says it is reused and in an another document the Sogdian script is a transcription of the Chinese text. Are all the documents Sogdian transcriptions or does reusage imply two different texts?

    “Inhabitants of the defeated lands, such as the Persians or the Syrians, might adopt Islam but they still had to pay the poll- tax that was technically due only from those of other faiths. Each such converted Muslim had to have an Arabic patron.” (pg.26) In a previous lecture we learnt that people converted to Islam so as not to pay taxes. This essay implies that even after conversion they were made to pay the tax. Which statement is more correct?

  3. Matthew Dischner March 22, 2016 at 8:46 am

    What makes the Sogdian language Sogdian? We know that it is an offshoot of Persian, and we also know there were varying dialects and differences in scripts. So what links these dialects together? Is it vocabulary, or a specific unique grammar quality absent in “classical” Persian? Are all of these differences due in large to the lack of a central Sogdian power, or also tot he sheer distance the Sogdians travelled?

    We regularly talk of Alexander’s influence on the Greco-Bactrian kingdoms, but what about his influence over Sogdiana. While he may not have ever truly conquered the region, certainly there must have been some influence. What was his influence over the Sogdians? Or did they truly stand apart from the other greek kingdoms? Also

    Are the pilgrim accounts mentioned in the catalogue useful sources for further research? We know, for instance, that evidence suggests the account of Xuanzang seems in some part stylized, and possibly fabricated in certain points. We also know that parts of his account are accurate, as the corroborate with Chinese bureaucratic records. What about these other pilgrims and travelers along the Silk Road? Most of the surviving accounts are Chinese pilgrims going west. What about travelers coming east? What accounts for the lack of surviving sources there?

  4. Elizabeth Neill March 22, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Lurje asked a question in his lecture in talking about Sogdian paintings that has recurred in several other readings and class discussions: “How Sogdian is this image?” (22:00). Throughout his detailing of both textual and archaeological (and art historical) evidence, he noted outside influences on Sogdian material. Is there any piece of material culture that we would call purely Sogdian? How can we negotiate these multiple influences? “Influence” pervades the Hermitage catalogue as well, especially in regard to the Chinese.

    In talking about representation, Lurje pointed out a useful example from medieval Europe in which “Lombard” referred not only to a person from Lombardy but to a moneylender in general. Given the Book of Tang quote that appears in many modern articles and books about the Sogdians, which certainly emphasizes the modern scholars’ perception of Sogdians as primarily traders and merchants, can we find any external representations that define Sogdians as not (or not primarily) traders and merchants?

    What are the most striking continuities in Sogdian iconographies? Lurje mentioned (38:00) that the name of a king was frozen into the dating formula, similar to the use of the iconography of Bukharan rulers. Such continuities have been noted, particularly in coinage, as Aleksandr Naymark illustrated. But Lurje also brought up a contrasting point with the “secret language” of the Yaghnobis: the words are the same but the meanings are not. Could the same apply to other representations, visual rather than textual? As on p. 79 of the Hermitage catalogue, “It was not only literary or narrative subjects that travelled across cultures, but specific visual images, and Sogdian art frequently includes copies of Hellenistic or Byzantine iconography — such as a painter with the ‘Capitoline wolf’ or heads wearing Classical helments on silver objects — set into a local context.”

  5. Joanna Byrne March 22, 2016 at 10:33 am

    1. In “A Journey to the West: An Introduction”, Lurje and Samosyuk mention that when Xuanzang left China on his journey, he did so despite an imperial ban on travel to the “troubled Western Regions” (p.13). What details do we have concerning this travel ban? Did this apply to all citizens, or were there exceptions for mercantile activity or official state business?

    2. It seems that the prosperity of the seventh and first half of the eighth centuries among Sogdians was based largely on a political alliance with Tang China. Should we view the 755 revolt of An Lushan as the event which precipitated the end of Sogdian trade dominance in the region?

    3. In “The Art of Sogdiana”, Larisa Kulakova points out that “Sogdian painting is notable for the lack of facial expression in any figures except demons, with the result that considerable emphasis was placed on gesture to convey emotions such as amazement or suspicion.”(p. 93). Might this be a result of the use of sketch books or graphic models, as hinted at by the repetition of certain forms and the striking similarities to Sasanian iconography?

  6. Ariel Chaffin March 22, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    The foreword mentions how traveling on the Silk Road was not an easy journey. It says, “They were following in the footsteps of caravans of traders, of monks, pilgrims, warriors and adventurers, thousands of whom had lost their lives during the arduous journey through steep mountain passes and across treacherous deserts” (9). Is this an accurate number? What percentage of travelers made it and what percentage didn’t?

    Around 14:20, Lurje comments on a Kharosthi document. He breaks down the translation and says, “I think this Sugutaga would mean Sogdian”. By his use of “I think”, do we need to be hesitant in accepting the content that follows this statement? Or is he actually correct, and so his use of “I think” should be disregarded?

    Around minute 21 he talks about a Sogdian god depicted as a Sogdian. How many of their gods were depicted as Sogdian and how many were depicted with features influenced by different cultures?

  7. Christina March 22, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    In the Hermitage Catalogue, “A Journey West: An Introduction” describes three objects to sum up the central ideas behind the Expedition Silk Road exhibition: (1) “the image of a pilgrim or Buddhist preacher with a box of sutras on his back”; (2) “the small carved wooden statue of a merchant, most probably a Sogdian, from Kucha in Xinjiang Province, wears winter furs trimmed with tails, leather boots, and a tall pointed hat”; (3) “a wall painting showing ‘merchants feasting’ from Panjakent.” (pg. 17) How were these objects selected? Based on what we have read on the exhibition as well as on the Sogdians from our other readings, do you agree with their selected objects to summarize the ideas for exhibition? What three objects would you use to summarize our digital exhibition?

    In “The Art of Sogdiana,” Kulakova mentions the conservation of the paintings like those at Panjakent is to have them be “removed from the walls, placed on new support and transferred to museum conditions.” (pg. 94) Kulakova says that Pavel Kostrov developed a method to do so which has been updated and improved over time. How does removing the paintings from the walls help in conservation efforts? What is the removal process? Does removing the paintings take away from the understanding the context or place of the paintings?

    The middle section of the video of Pavel Lurje’s lecture on the Sogdians, he discusses finding “exercises” of school children, including alphabets, dating formulae, letterheads, lists, arithmetics, and possible oaths or exams. (~31:00). Later he implies that there were children practicing multiples languages (~40:00). What additional language(s) did Sogdian children learn, particular those living outside of Sogdiana to be able to interact with, and in future conduct business with, the groups of people around them? How old were the children doing these exercises? Related, was there the occupation of teacher in Sogdiana or did parents teach their children?

  8. Maria March 22, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    We know where the name “Silk Road” came from. When and where did the term Central Asia first appear, and how does it describe the region from not only geographic, but also cultural and historic points of view?

    When Lurje shows the extracts of several Sogdian texts, we can see Chinese inscriptions next to Sogdian inscriptions. Are they translations or explanations? Were they written approximately at the same period as the Sogdian texts themselves, or much later? Did they help in deciphering the language?

    I liked the argument that the documents written in Sogdian can be considered as pieces of art, together with wall paintings and other artifacts. At the same time Lurje mentioned different kind of scripts, used by the Sogdians, putting the most emphasis on the Sutra script. He compared the script with Uigur and Bactrian scripts, some of which looked beautiful, too. Should we consider calligraphy as a separate kind of Sogdian art, and include document in the exhibition not only according to their historic, but also according to their esthetic value?

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