(Editor’s note: The following contents was originally published at the website of the 51st Annual Meeting: https://piac2018.wordpress.com/piac-51)
“Roads and Travelers in the Altaic World”
Some thoughts about the central theme of the 51st PIAC Meeting
The theme of roads and travelers in the Altaic World manifests itself through such things as conquests, migrations, embassies, and caravans. For this Meeting, we should avoid the topic of the Silk Road, which has been studied extensively. Rather, we should concentrate our questions on a broader, more creative analytical arena. Below are some broad suggestions, ideas to inspire a general unity of purpose for the presentations. There is the question of the history of these roads, at times pacified, at others impassable. The Altaic world harbored a mobile civilization, in hostile or pacific communication with neighboring sedentary civilizations. There also were linguistic contacts between Mongols and Turks, and with other peoples. The theme of roads, of interconnectedness, can take many forms, as can descriptions of the travelers, the communicators, who breached the distances through movement, language, trade, conquest, or simple curiosity.
We might consider the itineraries followed by various travelers, the commercial missions, embassies and pilgrimage, invasions and migrations, networks, postal stations, and caravanserais. Or we might focus on the agents of transformation, changes of itineraries, the impact of railroads and borders, and the politics that ruled travel and communication. The influence of geographical and natural conditions also is important. What do we find along these roads, how are they organized (caravanserais, post houses, logistics, protections, seasonal adaptation, etc.)?
The itineraries, requirements and experiences of travelers differed whether they were diplomats, caravans, conquerors, or missionaries. In describing the internal and seasonal mobility of a society, we distinguish between nomads and pastoralists. Populations of the Altaic World were in motion, within their own societies and between civilizations. What were the political restrictions imposed on the circulation of people by authorities, such as the Manchu or the Russians? What do we know about the archaeological remains along these roads (or about the roads taken by the archaeologists themselves), about the day-to-day conditions of traveling and how they change over the centuries?
In terms of analytical questions, we are interested in learning what such roads and connections are used for and by whom (for war, trade, migration, pilgrimage, cultural exchange?), and their history. We are particularly interested transformations and the reasons for and consequences of change. We might discuss the ideas, concepts cultures and religions spreading along the roads. We could also investigate the difference between what is “seen” by the traveler, the image he is transmitting, and the ethnographical reality, as well as the image Altaic populations have about themselves and each other. Geographical realities, as much as social realities surely have played crucial roles in fostering or hindering communication and travel. In short, we are hoping for a creative, analytical interpretation of the theme of roads and travelers in the Altaic World.