SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

The Silk-Roads as a model for exploring Eurasian transmissions of medical knowledge: views from the Tibetan medical manuscripts of Dunhuang

Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim

Date: 21 March 2019Time: 5:30 PM

Finishes: 21 March 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B104

Type of Event: Lecture


While the “Silk Road” as a concept was initially focused on its main termini points—China and Europe— thanks to the great archaeological discoveries along the Silk Roads of the twentieth century, we now know that its greater historical significance lies in fact in the great expanse in between.

The manuscripts which were discovered in the early twentieth century in the so-called “Library Cave” of Dunhuang have only recently begun to be explored in European scholarship in the context of history of science and history of medicine. Observed in their overall context, the Dunhuang manuscripts are a bit like a time capsule, providing traces of what medicine was like ‘on the ground’, away from the main cultural centres, at this particular geographical location. Being in manuscript form they preserve the benefits of unedited texts, revealing more diverse forms of healing, telling different stories than medical canons preserved in print. 

This lecture focuses on the Tibetan medical manuscripts from Dunhuang. These texts provide a fresh view into some of the multi-cultural interactions and exchanges of knowledge, and reveal the value of looking at sources in the ‘bridging’ languages of the Silk Roads. Through focusing on mediating cultures and languages, multi-cultural locations and collections as well as specific key texts and figures –we can begin to address the great puzzle of Eurasian history of science.

Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, Goldsmiths, University of London

Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim is a Senior Lecturer in the History Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. Yoeli-Tlalim’s research deals with the transmission of medical knowledge along the so-called ‘Silk-Roads’. Within this general scope, she has been working on the history of early Tibetan medicine, based primarily on manuscripts found in the Dunhuang caves. This work followed up on her work which consisted part of the Islam and Tibet project at the Warburg Institute. Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim has co-edited three volumes with Anna Akasoy and Charles Burnett: Islam and Tibet: Interactions along the Musk Routes (2011); Rashīd al-Dīn as an Agent and Mediator of Cultural Exchanges in Ilkhanid Iran (2013) and Astro-Medicine: Astrology and Medicine, East and West (2008). She has also co-edited (with Vivienne Lo) the Silk Roads Special Issue of Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity (2007). Her book ReOrienting Histories of Medicine: Encounters along the Silk Roads is due to appear later this year. 

Organiser: Christian Faggionato

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