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History of Central Asia & Afghanistan


Admission requirements



Central Asia is a vast region with a rich history in which a multitude of languages are spoken; the birthplace of great empires and the crossroads of many different cultures. Its fluid borders stretch into present-day Afghanistan, Russia, China, Mongolia, Iran and the Caucasus. The history of this region is closely intertwined with the so-called Silk Road, a pre-modern highway of global interaction. Today Central Asia is increasingly important as a focal point of the geopolitical interests and global ambitions of world powers such as for example China’s New Silk Road initiative. This course will focus on the background of Central Asia and Afghanistan today, starting with a multifaceted historical overview of the region – from the heartland of the Silk Road and its empires to a buffer zone for colonial powers, leading to the more recent history, when the term ‘Central Asia’ became more and more synonymous to the five ‘stans’ which came into existence during the first decennia of the former Soviet Union. How are the now independent republics of Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan grappling with their Soviet heritage and the more distant past and how have these republics tried to shape a national identity by (re)inventing and creating a national history? How about developments in Afghanistan, with its ethnic make-up directly corresponding to the ‘nationalities’ of the Central Asian Republics? What is the role of Islam and other religions in Afghanistan and in present day Central Asian society? How does this relate to what is today understood as the Middle East? Key issues in this course will be empire building, cultural space, identity formation, nationalism, state ideologies, geopolitics and heritage.

Course objectives

This course aims to provide a background into the history and current issues of a region that has often been thought of as a periphery, caught between the great powers of Asia and the Middle East.



Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Attendance is not obligatory for lectures. The conveners do not need to be informed in case of missed classes. Information and knowledge provided in the lectures greatly contribute to the subsequent courses of the programme. In order to pass the course, students are strongly advised to attend all sessions.

Course Load

5 EC x 28 hrs = 140 hrs
Lectures + visit exhibition (13 x 2) 26
Literature study / exam preparation 112
Exams 2

Assessment method and weighing

al Assessment Weighing
Mid term assignment: report / essay on the exhibition “Silk Road Cities” in Old Library 15%
End-term examination: written examination with short open questions, multiple choice and essay questions 85%


Written examination with a combination of short open questions, multiple choice and essay questions (100%).

Exam review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Information, communication

  • Assignments

Reading list

  • A reading list will be made available at the beginning of the course.Readings will be assigned and provided on an ad hoc basis via blackboard.


General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch


Prof. Dr. G.R. van den Berg


Please note: the first session on 12 September is not a class meeting, but a time slot allotted to an individual visit to the Old Library, for the exhibition Silk Road Cities: Documents through vintage photographs, prints and postcards (Oude UB, Rapenburg 70, Leiden: 5 September – 17 October 2019). More information will be provided via Blackboard.