ERIC Identifier: ED305325 Publication Date: 1989-04-00
Author: Weston, David Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about Inner Asia. ERIC Digest.
Recent reports on elementary and secondary schools reveal that American
students tend to be grossly ignorant of the history, geography, and cultures of
peoples around the world. These deficiencies in knowledge are linked to
inadequacies in the curriculum. "In educating students, the languages, cultures,
values, traditions, and even the location of other nations are often ignored,"
says the National Governors' Association Task Force on International Education
(1989, 1). This general criticism of international education in schools is
especially applicable to teaching and learning about that great Eurasian land
mass known as Inner Asia. This ERIC Digest discusses (1) reasons for learning
about Inner Asia, (2) how to include Inner Asia in the curriculum, and (3)
strategies for teaching about Inner Asia.
WHY SHOULD STUDENTS LEARN ABOUT INNER ASIA?
than ever before, students in the United States are exposed to information and
ideas from the heart of the Eurasian land mass. News from Soviet Central Asia
tells of riots, earthquakes, and civil rights violations. Reports from
Afghanistan inform us of invasions, political intrigue, and ethnic group
conflict. Stories from Tibet reveal that untold numbers of people are resisting
rule by an alien Chinese government. American students are likely to have no
context in which to interpret these events, because they lack knowledge of the
history, geography, and cultures of Inner Asia.
One of the most significant characteristics of Inner Asia is its central
location in relation to the major sedentary civilizations of the past and
present. To the southeast is the enormous realm and time-honored civilization of
China. Due south are the varied peoples and cultures of the Indian subcontinent.
To the northwest are Russia and the other nations of Europe, extending from the
Ural mountains to the Atlantic ocean. Finally, to the southwest is the region
that Europeans refer to as the Middle East.
Within the Eurasian heartland of Inner Asia dwell a rich variety of peoples,
including Mongols and Tibetans, Kazakhs and Kirghiz, Uzbeks and Uighurs, Turkmen
and Tadjiks, Afghans and Pathans, and many more. Until modern times, most of
these people were nomads; but some of them established great cities and empires,
and nearly all had deep and lasting effects on world history.
The location of Inner Asia, in the middle of the Eurasian land mass, has in
the past made this area a convenient crossroads for traders and travelers as
well as a bloody battlefield for frequent wars between the nomads of the central
heartland and the settled peoples who lived around them. The intermittent
warfare and rich cultural exchanges continued until modern times.
The "great silk road" on which Marco Polo traveled was an Inner Asian highway
established and protected by Mongol warriors. The introduction of papermaking to
peoples of the West came from China through the paper industries of Samarkand
and Bukhara in Inner Asia. The conquests of Inner Asian warriors and their
legendary leaders, such as Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, and Babur, have shaped and
reshaped nations and empires from China to Russia and Eastern Europe and from
India to the so-called Middle East.
Most secondary students in the United States have little knowledge of the
peoples and places of Inner Asia, of this region's geography and history, of its
significance in world history and current events. Overcoming this ignorance is
imperative for students who will be living in the emerging global community of
the twenty-first century.
HOW CAN INNER ASIAN STUDIES BE INCLUDED IN THE CURRICULA OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS?
Lessons about Inner Asia can be infused
into sixth- and seventh-grade courses in cultural area studies or world
geography and history. In addition the scope of high school courses in world
history and geography can be expanded to include more extensive treatments of
various non-Western peoples, including those of the Eurasian heartland. What are
some of the topics and themes that might be emphasized in studies of the
geography, history, and cultures of Inner Asia?
The study of Inner Asian geography can provide a spatial frame of reference
which allows students to understand this part of the world in relationship to
other parts. Some of the world's most fascinating geographic features can be
found in Inner Asia: towering mountains (e.g., Pamirs and the Tien-shan),
rushing rivers, (e.g., the Syr-Darya and Amu-Darya), and treacherous deserts
(e.g., the Kyzyl-Kum and the Kara-Kum). Emphasis on the geographic theme of
human-environment interactions can help learners understand how the cultures of
different peoples may shape and be shaped by their surroundings. Attention to
the geographic themes of place and location in Inner Asia can generally enhance
the geographic literacy of students.
Another way to integrate the study of Inner Asia into the social studies
curriculum is through in-depth investigations of one or two of the many cultures
of this region. For example, an inquiry into the dwellings, food, clothing,
folklore, and music, etc. of the Uzbeks or the Uighurs can open many avenues of
The study of religion in the past and present is a means to link Inner Asia
to other world regions in the social studies curriculum, because Inner Asia has
served as a bastion (at one time or another) for nearly all the world's major
religions. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity have been practiced,
sometimes in combination with local religious traditions, by the various nations
and groups of Inner Asia. Diffusion of religious ideas and practices from the
surrounding civilizations into Inner Asia has occurred throughout world history.
Furthermore, Inner Asia is a striking example of religious plurality and
assimilation. In some communities, two or three religions coexist with strictly
drawn lines of interactions between adherents.
Conflicts among Inner Asian peoples and between Inner Asian nations and
surrounding civilizations have had a deep and abiding influence in world history
and should be emphasized in the curriculum. The conquests of Genghis Khan and
his successors, for example, established the great Mongolian empire that
dramatically affected development of several nations of Eurasia, including
China, Russia, India, Persia, Hungary, and Poland.
WHAT STRATEGIES CAN BE USED TO TEACH ABOUT INNER ASIA?
newspaper articles to stimulate interest in Inner Asia and set the stage for
detailed study. Students can be asked to explore the circumstances that led up
to an event and to identify places, ethnic groups, and developments in history
that have had an impact on the event. The NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST,
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR and other major metropolitan newspapers are excellent
sources of articles that deal with Inner Asia. Various organizational
newsletters also provide excellent information on current events.
A comparative study can be used to examine different aspects of Inner Asian
cultures. Religious beliefs and practices, economic systems, and political
systems, for example, are amenable to comparative study.
Arts, crafts, music, and literature are excellent sources of information
about the culture of a people. Many good translations of very popular literary
works are being done in English. A look at the crafts, such as carpets, pottery,
and jewelry, is an interesting way to unlock the meaning of life among the Inner
Asian peoples. Inner Asian designs and motifs tell volumes about traditions,
superstitions, and legends. Excellent means of portrayals of these aspects of
Inner Asian cultures are possible through slide presentations and documentary
films. Pictures can often say more than hours of discussion.
Map exercises can be constructed to familiarize the student with the vastness
and variety of Inner Asian terrain. Relationships of peoples to their
environment can be studied with the aid of different types of maps. Involve
students in the compilation of biographical studies of popular Inner Asian
heroes. These heroes helped shape the self-identities of the different ethnic
groups, and much of the oral history comes from the development of these
characters. Some interesting people to study are al-Kwarizmi, Genghis Khan,
Marco Polo, Tamerlane, Babur, Ulug Beg, Al-Tabari, Kubilai Khan, Mir ali-shir
Navoii and many others. Perhaps reading Inner Asian literature would ignite an
interest in these people. A very popular novel throughout Asia is entitled A DAY
LASTS MORE THAN A HUNDRED YEARS, by Chinghiz Aitmotov.
It would be interesting to have students evaluate the effects of socialism or
communism on most of the peoples of Inner Asia. What has 70 years of life under
the Soviet system done to the Uzbeks, Turkmen, Kirghiz, Tajik, and Kazakhs of
Central Asia? How have the Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Tibetans coped with domination
by the Chinese Communist regime? What effect is "perestroika" having on the
indigenous ethnic groups?
Nationalism among the Inner Asian peoples is a mounting issue today in the
Soviet Union and China. There are signs of growing tensions between the ruling
groups in the Soviet Union and China, and the ethnic minority groups of these
countries. A most interesting approach would be to discover how each ethnic
group came under domination by the Chinese or the Russians and research the
occurrences of overt resistance to domination by the peoples of Inner Asia.
Serious study of Inner Asia can greatly improve the quality of international
education in schools. And there are many places in the standard social studies
curriculum to infuse Inner Asian studies. Curriculum planners and teachers
should take action to provide elementary and secondary students with
opportunities to learn about this long-neglected and very important part of our
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are in the ERIC system and are available in microfiche and paper
copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about
prices, contact EDRS, 3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22304; telephone
numbers are 703-823-0500 and 800-227-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number are
annotated monthly in CIJE (CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION), which is
available in most libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS;
however, they can be located in the journal section of most libraries by using
the bibliographic information provided below.
Bennigsen, Alexander. MUSLIMS OF
THE SOVIET EMPIRE. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986.
Boyce, Mary. A LAST
STRONGHOLD OF TRADITIONAL ZOROASTRIANISM: TEACHING AIDS FOR THE STUDY OF INNER ASIA, No. 7. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies of Indiana University, 1977.
Boyce, Mary. THE REDISCOVERY OF MISSING CHAPTERS
IN MAN'S RELIGIOUS HISTORY: TEACHING AIDS FOR THE STUDY OF
INNER ASIA, No. 6. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies of Indiana University, 1977.
Cornelious, Martha J. and others.
TEACHING TECHNIQUES AND MATERIALS FOR THE STUDY OF INNER ASIA: THE PEOPLES OF
THE STEPPE. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies of Indiana University, 1978. ED 288 784.
Penrose, Larry G. THE INNER
ASIAN DIPLOMATIC TRADITION: TEACHING AIDS FOR THE STUDY OF INNER ASIA, No. 3. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies of Indiana University, 1975. ED 135 726.
Sebes, Joseph S. THE ROLE OF INNER ASIA IN
EARLY RUSSO-CHINESE RELATIONS: TEACHING AIDS FOR THE STUDY OF INNER ASIA, No. 8. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies of Indiana University, 1980. ED 294 815.
Seifert, Thomas. "Studying Other
Cultures: Afghanistan As a Focus." INDIANA SOCIAL STUDIES QUARTERLY 36 (Spring 1983): 62-66. EJ 283 249.
Sinor, Denis. WHAT IS INNER ASIA? TEACHING AIDS FOR THE
STUDY OF INNER ASIA, No. 1. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies of Indiana University, 1975. ED 135 724.
Sinor, Denis, ed. HIGH SCHOOL TEACHING UNIT PLANS ON INNER ASIA: TEACHING AIDS FOR THE STUDY OF INNER ASIA, No. 4. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies of Indiana University, 1976. ED 135 727.
Sinor, Denis. INNER ASIA: HISTORY,
CIVILIZATIONS, LANGUAGES. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies of Indiana University, 1987.
Slobin, Mark. MUSIC OF CENTRAL ASIA AND OF THE
VOLGA-URAL PEOPLES: TEACHING AIDS FOR THE STUDY OF INNER ASIA, No. 5. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies of Indiana University, 1977. ED 295 874.
Task Force on International
Education. AMERICA IN TRANSITION: THE INTERNATIONAL FRONTIER. Washington, DC:
National Governors' Association, 1989.
Weston, David C. RESOURCES FOR TEACHING ABOUT
INNER ASIA. Bloomington, IN: Social Studies Development Center, 1988. ED 295 886.
Wylie, Turrel V. TIBET'S ROLE IN INNER ASIA: TEACHING AIDS FOR THE STUDY OF INNER ASIA, No. 2. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies of Indiana University, 1975. ED 135 725.
Please note that this site is privately owned and is in no way related
to any Federal agency or ERIC unit. Further, this site is using a
privately owned and located server. This is NOT a government sponsored
or government sanctioned site. ERIC is a Service Mark of the U.S. Government.
This site exists to provide the text of the public domain ERIC Documents
previously produced by ERIC. No new content will ever appear here
that would in any way challenge the ERIC Service Mark of the U.S. Government.