For three days, all silk roads lead to Portland

International scholars ranging from countries such as Germany, Pakistan and South Korea flew in to Portland to attend the Art & Archaeology of the Silk Road Symposium, hosted by Portland State from Oct. 11-13.

Similar to how the Silk Road of legend facilitated trade from people of different backgrounds and talents, the symposium was a mishmash of different disciplines, including novel-writers, mythological researchers and Persian scholars. The symposium sought a comprehensive definition of the Silk Road and explored how an old trade route relates to today’s changing, digital world.

“The Art & Archaeology of the Silk Road Conference was timely because it underlines how international cooperation, trade and cultural exchange were crucial in the creation and maintenance of flourishing civilizations,” said Daniel Kim, visiting Assistant Professor of History with the department of World Languages and Literatures and the Institute for Asian Studies.

Kim went on to highlight how the wide range of topics covered during the symposium illuminated the pervasiveness of syncretism occurring from the second century BCE to 1400 CE.

“Images like that of Roman glass bowls found in ancient Korean tombs from over a millennia and a half ago serve to emphasize the fascinating possibilities built through cultural exchange,” explained Kim, “a lesson that is especially pertinent given the rising nativism we see throughout the world today.”

The Silk Road was a series of trade routes spanning from Scandinavia to the islands in the east we now know as Indonesia. Academic consensus dates its beginnings to the early 2nd century BCE, although there are signs of international trade among the routes even before that. Despite its name, silk wasn’t the only thing in demand on these routes.

Many goods, such as silver, spices, and silk, were traded frequently along the world-spanning routes. Almost no one completed the entire journey themselves; instead, traders completed sections of the road, trading at hub cities to other traders. These hub cities became cultural centers, and some of them still remain to this day. The traded goods made a relay race across the known world, with each trader likely marking up the product for more profit each time the goods switched hands. The countries who enjoyed a link to the Silk Road blended their cultures and tastes, a trend still continuing today.

Kim isn’t the only one noticing the impact a greater understanding of the Silk Road can have on navigating an increasingly globalized world. Sunmi Park, Research Fellow from the Northeast Asian History Foundation and one of the many visiting scholars from South Korea, thinks it’s important for people to learn about the Silk Road to prepare themselves for increasing globalization.

“[T]he Silk Road is for understanding [ourselves] better and preparing our lives in ways of co-living,” said Park.