Music on the Silk Road: travel and circulation (PG)

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Arts & 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 module uses the notion of the Silk Road to explore questions of musical exchange and circulation across Asia, both historically and today. The module 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.


  • Lectures: 1 hour per week  
  • Seminars: 1 hour per week 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • Identify traditional and popular musical styles from across Central Asia.
  • Understand the religious and socio-political issues that affect the development of local musical styles.
  • Think critically about musical circulation and digital mediation.
  • Think critically about the role of music in cultural development, tourism and heritage.
  • Critically analyse primary sources that draw on the musical Silk Road metaphor.
  • Apply theories of diaspora and nationalism to music cross-culturally.

Method of assessment

  • 750-word Media Review (worth 25% of marks)
  • 2,500-word essay (worth 75%)

Suggested reading

  • Levin, Theodore, Saida Daukeyeva & Köchümkulova, Elmira eds. (2016) Music of Central Asia, Indiana University Press.
  • The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. by Peter Frankopan. Knopf., 2015
  • Krüger, Simone & Ruxandra Trandafoiu eds. (2014) The Globalization of Musics in Transit: Music, Migration and Tourism, Routledge.
  • Novak, David (2013) Japanoise: Music At The Edge Of Circulation, Duke University Press.
  • Baily, John (2015) War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan: The Ethnographer’s Tale, Ashgate.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.