Yes, women were there! They were traders, workers in silk manufacture, entertainers, wives of diplomats or merchants who traveled with their husbands or, left at home, held the family and household economy together. There were some well known real life and legendary figures as well, who in diverse ways were vital partipants in east/west exchanges along the Silk Road.

This section offers a variety of ways to incorporate these female experiences into the historical narrative we call the Silk Road, a topic which is widely taught but which largely ignores ways in which women participated alongside men. A primary aim of the section is to link a variety of web resources to the topics introduced.

“For most readers, the network of trade routes known collectively as the Silk Road calls to mind an image of lucrative commerce; a story of commercial travel between imperial China and its neighboring provinces, extending west eventually as far as the Mediterranean. It is also, in many historical accounts and in the popular imagination, a story largely without female participants.” (Sea of Silk: A Textile Geography of Women’s Work in Medieval French Literature, 2009)

A primary aim of the section is to link a variety of web resources to the topics introduced. This allows students to explore the internet to:

•  enhance the central topic

•  offer a variety of viewpoints,

•  provide resources which can be adapted for further study.

•  engage in activities and discussion questions which help interpretation of primary materials.

•  consider some cultural links between past and present

Time Periods
The topics and resources are drawn from the wide time periods, mainly covering two major eras:7th to 10 century CE. and 12th to 14th century CE.

Table of Contents
•  Influential Women
Background and discussion questions connecting
the lives of four famous women to Silk Road themes.

•  Tang dynasty’s Wu Zetian:  the spread of Buddhism, (625-705 C.E.)

•  Princess Wencheng:  Chinese/Tibetan exchanges, (ca. 620-680 CE)

•  Sorghaghtani Beki:  Mongol inter-ethnic exchanges (1190-1252)

•  Empress Irene:  Development of Byzantium’s silk trade (752-803 CE)

•  Women and Silk Production
Provides a gendered views of silk cultivation,
manufacture, consumption, revivals.

• Making Silk

• Wearing Silk

• Reviving Silk Traditions

•  Using Primary Sources
A lesson using evidence found in paintings, statues,
and documents, to uncover women’s activities.

U.S. National and State Standards Links

Most broadly, the standard’s mandated themes of patterns of interaction and of historical developments that cut across civilizations and conventional regions are met.
Some specifics include: The U.S. World History Standard, Era 4: which requires knowledge of Expanding Zones of Exchange and Encounter 300 - 1000 CE; the theme of Cultural Diffusion which is incorporated under the Geography Standard; and, the topic of trade routes which is is encompassed under the Economics Standards.

The National Social Studies Thematic Strands covered are: Culture; Time, Continuity, and Change; People, Places, and Environments; Individuals, Groups, and Institutions; Production, Distribution, and Consumption; and Global Connections.

State Standards often include the requirement to: Understand the roles and contributions of individuals and groups to social, political, economic, cultural, and religious practices and activities; View and interpret historic events through the eyes of those who wee there, as shown in their art, writings, and artifacts; Interpret and analyze documents and artifacts related to significant developments and events in world history; and, Understand the effects of the reopening of the ancient “Silk Road” between Europe and Eurasia, including Marco Polo’s travels.

Influential Women Women and Silk Production Exploring Primary Sources
  Tang dynasty’s Wu Zetian   Making Silk   Primary Source Lessons
  Princess Wencheng   Wearing Silk  
  Sorghaghtani Beki   Reviving Silk Traditions  
  Empress Irene    

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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Women in World History Curriculum