The short essays should each be 4-5 pp. in length (double-spaced, with adequate but not excessive margins), responding to questions assigned in the detailed weekly schedule. Late essays will be penalized .5 (i.e., half a grade). In the first instance, the goal of each essay will be to deepen your understanding of material in specific assigned readings, but the goal will also be to encourage synthesis from any other relevant course materials (e.g., lectures). Sources beyond (but not in place of) the assigned ones may also be used.
The essays and final exam must be clearly written in correct English. They should include a bibliography of all sources consulted, and must indicate quotations by appropriate punctuation and annotate their sources with specific page references. Failure to identify specifically where you are using the words of others is plagiarism, as are some other kinds of failure to provide proper attribution. Plagiarized work does not represent satisfactory completion of the assignment and must be properly re-done before credit can be awarded. The opportunity to do this is offered only once, on the first offense. A second instance of plagiarism will result in credit being witheld for the course and the evidence being turned over to the University Committee on Academic Misconduct for a determination of sanctions. You should read the web page regarding Academic Conduct and the separate page for more details on the important subject plagiarism, which provides a clear idea of what is acceptable and what is not. Also, read the statement of departmental and university rules, attached in a separate file. For proper form of citations and bibliography, click here or pick up from library reference the appropriate handout. Either MLA or Chicago Manual of Style standards are acceptable. Web citations to assigned texts should be to specific files, not to the generic URL of the course web site.
The due dates and subjects for the essays are:
Essay No. 1 (due Wednesday, Jan. 19):
The early Chinese sources provide a particular perspective on nomads and the way they interact with sedentary peoples. Given what you have been learning about nomads from your reading and from discussions in class, discuss the degree to which you think the picture in the Chinese sources is an accurate one. What might need to be added or changed and why? Be sure to illustrate your contentions with specific examples.
Essay No. 2 (due Friday, Feb. 4):
Some have written about the Buddhist "conquest" of China. Given what we might posit about the process of the spread of any major religion and what you have learned from the evidence about the spread of Buddhism, does that descriptive term seem to be appropriate? You should consider a number of things here, keeping in mind the chronological framework of the evidence. To what degree did Buddhist belief coincide with or contradict indigenous Chinese beliefs? What aspects of Buddhist doctrine seem to have been particularly appealing and why? Who was responsible for the spread of Buddhism? What difficulties stood in the way of those wishing to promote the faith? Much of your evidence should be drawn from the travels of Faxian and Xuanzang, the material on sutras and their illustrations, and evidence from sites such as the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, Turfan, and Yungang. Note, the first section of readings listed for next week is relevant here.
Essay No. 3 (due Wednesday, February 23):
Islam had a positive impact on cultural exchange and development across Eurasia. This can be seen in the syncretism involving pre-Islamic cultural traditions, in the promotion of trade and urban development, and in the active cultural and artistic exchange with both East and West. Would you agree or disagree? Illustrate your response with specific examples.
Essay 4. (due Wednesday, March 9):
Is it possible to derive from contemporary accounts ("primary sources") an objective picture of the Mongols and their impact on the historic "Silk Road"? Is the picture that emerges one of wanton destruction, constructive development (including flourishing trade), cultural openness, or some combination of these? Be sure to illustrate your essay with specific examples and critique the sources from which they come. Note: I am not looking here for a summary of my "Pax Mongolica" web page. You must show you have read carefully and thought about the primary sources (Ibn al-Athir, Polo, Rubruck, Ibn Battuta, Pegolotti, etc.), and you must base your essay in the first instance on your analysis of them.
Remember: You must do all of the four essays.
Click here for an example of one of the better essays submitted for question no. 3. (This is a document formatted in Word.) Note that the original did include a bibliography of sources cited, although that is not appended to this copy.