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The fabled Silk Routes were a series of global trade networks that transported luxury goods, decorative objects, people and ideas across some of history’s most extraordinary civilizations. Using rich archeological and archival materials, this series will explore how that cross-cultural exchange impacted artworks and cultures around the world over the past two thousand years–with effects that can still be felt today. Both a follow-up to his sold-out course The Treasures of the Ancient Silk Road, and a standalone series, this new course from Curious Minds favourite Sudharshan Durayappah will take you on a whirlwind tour of the arts and cultures that built the modern world.

Led by Professor Sudharshan Durayappah, who teaches in the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies at the University of Toronto. A leading scholar of art history, religion and culture, he has also served as a lecturer at the Aga Khan Museum and a history teacher at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Registration: $49 (Hot Docs Members: $33, $27, Free)


Lecture #1: From Land to Sea: The New Silk Routes
In the early 1400s, the world’s trade routes changed dramatically. The Silk Road between Europe and China was shut down by disease and the Ottoman Turks took control of the trade routes in West Asia. As time went on, alternative trade routes to Asia were established on the sea, fostering new exchanges of art, culture, goods and ideas.

Lecture #2: The Indian Ocean and the Rising Global “Trade Winds”
Beginning as early as the third century BCE, the Indian Ocean became the nexus for trade routes connecting South Asia, Arabia, East Africa and East Asia. In lecture two, we’ll examine how this vast web of international trade harnessed the seasonal monsoon winds and introduced dazzling new goods and artifacts to cultures around the world.

Lecture #3: Hidden Stories: Books along the Silk Roads
Explore the fabled Silk Roads through the lens of one of humanity’s most cherished communication tools: the book. Drawing from the spectacular materials at the recent Silk Routes exhibition at the Aga Khan Museum, we will examine the rich exchange of cultures seen in these artifacts, including a prayer sheet from northwestern China, an Iranian scroll of the Qur’an and a richly coloured Jewish marriage contract from 19th-century Greece. We’ll peer into the lives of the craftspeople that had made these objects and the communities that made use of these artistic marvels.

Lecture #4: The Voyages of Admiral Zheng He
The voyages of Zheng He, a Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat, and court eunuch, offer a rich window into the cultural exchanges and geopolitical maneuvers that shaped the early Modern world. Over seven great voyages in the 15th century, he traversed the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Red Sea, and expanded China’s influence across the modern silk routes.

Lecture #5: Colonial Trade and the Cloth That Changed the World
In the 19th century, as Europeans began to undertake trading voyages to Asia, they encountered artistically rich, economically robust societies—and fierce competition for products such as tea, cotton, opium and spices. Drawing on the Royal Ontario Museum’s recent exhibition, The Cloth That Changed the World, we’ll zero in on the fascinating stories behind India’s textile innovations, and their global influences on fashion, trade and industry.

Lecture #6: The New Silk Road
In the 20th and 21st Centuries, the countries and regions of the Silk Road have once again become a site of global exchange and geopolitical competition. We’ll close our series by examining the future of the international silk routes and what China’s rapid development projects along them mean, for the future of globalization and the exchange of goods, culture, money and ideas.

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