Part of Columbia University's World History Online series, this website, produced by Columbia's East Asia Institute, provides a general introduction to the rise of the Mongol empire in the 13th century and its impact across Eurasia. The narrative is richly illustrated with artworks and artifacts from the era in question. Separate pages provide topical information on the Mongols' nomadic life, key figures in Mongol history, Mongol conquests, and the impact of Mongol culture on China, Asia, and the World.
The overall aim of the website is to counter the stereotypical view of the Mongols as barbaric conquerors and explore the degree to which they helped foster a new transcontinental trade system and disseminated regional technologies and ideas across the breadth of Eurasia initiating a number of trends that contributed to the start of the "modern" world. The site not only deals with the nature of the Mongols but their role in the broader perspective of world history. In this sense,
it attempts to place its subject in a global context and raise broader questions about its signifcance. This is one of the site's greatest strengths.
Target Student Population:
Although the site is probably aimed at a general college audience, the illustrated material and class materials would make it equally attractive to advanced high school students, particularly those in world history classes.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
The site requires no prior knowledge of the topic or any special skills to use. Some wider knowledge of world history might help students better appreciate the argument about the Mongols impact on the world. However, an understanding of where the Mongols fit into the scheme of Chinese history would be helpful and a timeline comparison with the West enhances the site's utilitarian value.
Type of Material:
The site includes separate pages dealing with the nature of pastoral nomadic life, the Mongol Conquest, the Mongol role in China, and key figures in the Mongol empire from Ghengis to Kubilai Khan. Although all of these are well illustrated in themselves, they are augmented by an "image gallery" and map section keyed to the main pages. Other links direct the user to a short but well chosen bibliography of recent works on the Mongols, additional online readings, other related sites, and some class material appropriate for high school students.
The site provides an excellent supplement to courses on World or Asian history, particularly those focusing on East Asian or China. Because of the larger issue it poses about the impact of the Mongols on the modern world, it provides a useful way of approaching such big historiographical questions as when, where, and how certain modern trends began. It could thus prove beneficial in getting students to see the interpretive side of historical study and learning to assess arguments on their own. The site offers educators the opportunity to narrow or broaden the scope of the site's content into a course.
Acrobat 5.0 is recommended for some links.
Evaluation and Observation
This site offers excellent materials that give a good, but highly accessible, account of current understandings of the Mongols and their achievements. Morris Rosabi, who served as the chief consultant on this project, is one of today's most outstanding scholars working in Mongol and Central Asian history. The content divisions into : Mongols mark on Global History, Mongol Conquests, Mongols in China, Key Figures in Mongol history, and the Pastoral Nomadic Life lend themselves to units of classroom study. The bibliogrpahy is good and there are links for online readings, related web links, and class materials. The link for related topics is currently blank.
This is a well thought out and nicely done website. But, it does leave out more traditional accounts from conquered people that portray the Mongols in less than flattering ways. Such accounts are noted only to dismiss them, and students are thus not given the chance to judge their validity for themselves. Therefore, faculty using the site might wish to add some supplementary readings to provide a better balance of historical interpretation. Some of the maps were currently unavailable for use particularly those linked to the University of North Carolina.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
This site raises questions about the role of the Mongols in a broad context and helps to demonstrate that historical study involves interpretation and argument rather than mere memorization of what supposedly happened in the past. It also shows the growing effort in history to see local events within a larger world or global framework and not just as isolated phenomena in their own right. It is particularly important that students realize that Asian nationalities were just as likely as their European counterparts to expand beyond their ethnic/national borders and conquer broad stretches of territory. Because Marco Polo visited China during the Mongol period,
the site lends itself for excellent comparisons between Asia and Europe to include economic, military, political, social, religious, and intellectual comparisons. The site also raises the question based on current historical research about whether or not Marco Polo really did travel to China?
The site is not dogmatic, and although it clearly has an argument to make, it allows students to assess that argument for themselves and draw their own conclusions. But, the site fails to offer with counter evidence about Mongol atrocities.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The site is well laid out and easy to use. All links are active and lead to completed pages, save one on related links which lists nothing. A couple of links to maps at the University of North Carolina failed to work. The site offers four major approaches for study: the Mongol culture and history, the Mongol impact on China, the Mongol impact on central Asia and the West, and a comparison of Asia with Europe based on European travels to Asia.
Despite the fact that all of its parts are well labeled and easily found, the site offers no guidance on the sequence in which to visit them. High school and younger students might thus need some suggestions about how to proceed through the site and how far to go in following off-site links so as not to lose a sense of the bigger question. Educators are encouraged to write their own guide for instructional use of the material.
Other Issues and Comments:
Overall this is an excellent site with a well focused approach that gives its topic broad relevance and thus commends it to a wider audience than those just interested in the Mongols.