Music and travel on the Silk Road

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Music

Module overview

The Silk Road serves in contemporary imaginaries as a powerful symbol, evoking ancient trade routes, travel and adventure, cultural exchange, and exotic Others. Historically, musicians and musical instruments, musical ideas and forms have spread along the overland trading routes that traversed Central Asia, travelling through diverse conduits from diplomatic gifts to China’s Tang court, encounters between nomadic and settled peoples, military conquests, migration and the spread of empires, to the travels of itinerant Sufis. Today, the Silk Road is endlessly invoked and re-imagined through new musical configurations through  projects of cultural development and nation-building, commercial collaborations, diplomacy and tourism.

This course uses the notion of the Silk Road to explore questions of musical exchange and circulation across Asia, both historically and today. The course will draw on case studies from music cultures of China, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Through these case studies, we will explore:

  • contemporary approaches to the transnational circulation of musical sounds, ideologies and material culture
  • musical encounters through the movement of people: trade, forced migration and tourism
  • ideologies of change and patterns of localisation
  • the role of music in producing national and religious identities
  • cultural development agendas
  • digitally mediated musical flows


  • This module is capped at 20 places

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Identify a range of traditional and popular musical styles from across Asia
  • Understand some of the key religious and socio-political issues that affect the development of local musical styles
  • Understand major approaches to musical circulation and digital mediation
  • Understand critiques of the role of music in cultural development, tourism and heritage
  • Understand approaches to music, diaspora and nationalism


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Tutorial

Method of assessment

  • One 500 word media review - 25%
  • One 2,500 word essay - 75%

Suggested reading

  • Levin, Theodore with Valentina Suzukei (2006) Where rivers and mountains sing, Indiana University Press.
  • The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (2001) [online at]
  • Harris, Rachel (2008) The Making of a Musical Canon in Chinese Central Asia: The Uyghur Twelve Muqam. Ashgate Press.
  • Wood, Frances (2004) The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia, University of California Press
  • Krüger, Simone & Ruxandra Trandafoiu eds. (2014) The Globalization of Musics in Transit: Music Migration and Tourism, Routledge.
  • Nooshin, Laudan, ed. Sounds of Power: Music, Politics and Ideology in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, Ashgate Press.
  • Novak, David (2013) Japanoise: Music At The Edge Of Circulation, Duke University Press.
  • Adams, Laura L. (2010) The Spectacular State: Culture and National Identity in Uzbekistan, Duke University Press: Durham, NC.
  • Baily, John (2015) War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan: The Ethnographer’s Tale, Ashgate
  • The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. by Peter Frankopan. Knopf.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules