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MIT Anthropology
Climate, History, and Nomadic Empires: Case Studies and Questions of Method
Thursday, November 19
4-5:30 pm EST

Nicola di Cosmo
Luce Foundation Professor in East Asian Studies
Institute for Advanced Study
Princeton University

Discussants: David McGee (EAPS)
Manduhai Buyandelger (Anthropology)

Climate data can lead to new interpretations of historical events and, more broadly, the co-dependency between human and natural systems. The world-historical significance of the nomadic empires that emerged in the steppe regions of Inner Asia over the past two and a half millennia is beyond question. Nevertheless, the economic, social, and political processes involved in their rise and fall is poorly understood. The availability of high-definition proxy-generated paleoclimatic reconstructions holds new promise to advance knowledge of the pastoral nomads who built these empires. How to access and deploy climate data in historical analysis, however, can be controversial, as shown in recent narratives of “collapse”. The case of nomadic empires is especially challenging because much of the knowledge base is derived from archaeological and ethnographic research, rather than documentary archives. Through case studies from the ancient Türk (7th c. CE), Uyghur (8th-9th c. CE) and Mongol (13th-14th c. CE) empires, this paper develops a model for more expansive multi-disciplinary methods and richer reinterpretation.

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Nov 19, 2020 04:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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