The Silk Roads: Ancient and Modern


Please note that the date of this course has changed to Monday 21 March instead of Monday 10 January as previously advertised.  

Held in conjunction with the WEA at the Norden Farm Centre for the Arts.

These lectures delve into the origins of the famous Silk Roads and explore the ways in which commerce and travel shaped the cultural connections of a continent.

The four thematic sessions will look in detail at the societies of Central Asia and their fundamental role in transforming the ancient, medieval, and modern worlds while untangling some of the pervasive myths of this network over a thousand years of its history.

Programme details

This study day will be held at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Altwood Road, Maidenhead SL6 4PF.

Monday 21 March 2022

10.00am  Registration

10.15am  Development of the Silk Roads in the Classical World to 2nd Century CE

Ideas of Silk Roads are deeply rooted in the long-distance connections between the contemporary powers of Imperial Rome and Han China, but what are the origins of these transcontinental routes? This first lecture examines the so-called ‘classical’ era of the Silk Roads by placing this phenomenon in the broader context of Central Asian trade up to the first centuries CE.

11.15am  Break

11.40am  The Sogdian Trading Network in the early-mid 1st millennium CE

Long overlooked in the grand historical narratives of Western Europe, the traders of the Sogdian Empire (4th c. BCE – 8th c. CE) played a pivotal role in developing long-distance trade in silk and other exotic goods across Central Asia. We will investigate the astonishing archaeological and architectural remains of this region.

12.40pm  Lunch

Please note: lunch can be pre-ordered from the café-bar. The consumption of your own food and drink is not permitted on the premises at Norden Farm.

1.40pm  The Silk Roads after the coming of Islam 800-1300 CE

For the first time both the central and western extent came under the political and economic hegemony of the Caliphate. This period also saw a proliferation of infrastructure supporting long distance travel, for the purposes of trade and to facilitate the journeys of pilgrims and scholars. We will see how mountain and desert roads flourished in the medieval period, and the impact of extensive travel on cultural and artistic change across the Islamic World and beyond.

2.40pm  Break

3.00pm  The Modern Silk Roads

This final lecture looks at the re-emergence of discussions of the Silk Road, both in terms of initiatives such as China’s Belt and Road Scheme, and in terms of nation-building in the two decades since the independence of the previously Soviet Republics of Central Asia. Finally, we will critically review the impact of Silk Road narratives on today’s political discourse and consider where these ideas might lead us in the future.

4.00pm  Close


Description Costs
Tuition (Online attendance per household, £1 booking fee) £39.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Paul Wordsworth


Dr Paul D. Wordsworth is a Research Fellow at the University of Oxford specialising in the archaeology of the medieval Caucasus and Central Asia. His forthcoming book, ‘Moving in the Margins: Desert Travel and Power in Medieval Central Asia’ explores the complex relationship between movement, trade, politics and society that lies behind the development of medieval networks of travel in the region.


Steph Diggon (WEA), 19, Gorse Road, Cookham, SL6 9LL.

Email: or Telephone: 01628 563676.

For online attendance

You need to enrol direct with Norden Farm Centre for the Arts using this link:  In their confirmation email, Norden Farm will send links to their Live Streaming Guide, with information on how to test the stream in advance and what to do should you experience problems on the day. 

This event features a live chat feature alongside the stream, so please use this to ask questions.  Dr Paul Wordsworth will answer these briefly at the start of the following session.  This course will not be recorded.

Please contact Steph Diggon for course materials (e.g. agenda, reading list etc) when you book.  She will email Dr Paul Wordsworth's powerpoint presentation after the event.   

You can cancel your online place with Norden Farm up to 24 hours beforehand and the fee (less £1 booking fee) will be refunded in full.