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Empire and Cultural Exchange in Asia, 1500-1700 - HIS00131I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tara Alberts
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

During the period 1500-1700 the world changed beyond recognition. This was an age of imperial power, with the major empires of Asia – the Ottomans, Persians, Mughals, and Chinese – dominating key aspects of global trade. Ancient trade links between Asia, Europe, and Africa were reinvigorated and strengthened, and new routes and connections between various regions were forged. European trade also increased, as did the imperial ambitions of several European powers. By the middle of the sixteenth century, for the first time, all the inhabited continents of the world – including the Americas - were connected to some extent by stable trade routes and continuous exchange. Cultural, artistic, diplomatic, and religious exchange across Asia fuelled the development of new patterns of consumption and production and introduced new aesthetic styles and material cultures.

Following merchants, missionaries, diplomats, and adventurers as they travelled around Asia, this module will introduce this exciting period of global exchange. Students will explore the networks of trade, diplomacy and religious exchange in Asia which linked varied communities to each other and to the wider world. Each week, we will explore a new type of source and a new example of cultural exchange in the service of imperial power. Through this series of case studies the module provides students with the tools to examine big questions in global history, from a variety of perspectives.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • Be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 1-hour plenary/lecture and a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW) during which there are no seminars. Students prepare for and participate in eight 1-hour plenaries/lectures and eight 2-hour seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Asian Empires in the Early Modern World
  2. Imperial Ink in the Ottoman Empire
  3. Art and Power in Mughal India
  4. Commerce and Colonialism in Southeast Asia
  5. Chinese Porcelain in Safavid Persia
  6. Science, Medicine, and Technology in Ming China
  7. Religious Exchange in Japan’s “Christian Century”
  8. Asian Voices in Global History - Sources and Perspectives


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will complete a referenced 1200 to 1500-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This will be submitted in either the Week 5 or Week 9 RAW week (on the day of the weekly seminar).

For summative assessment, students will complete an Assessed Essay (2000 words, footnoted). This will comprise 100% of the overall module mark.

Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • John Darwin, After Tamerlane. The Global History of Empire since 1405 (London: Allen Lane, 2007).
  • Zoltan Biedermann, Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello, Global Gifts: The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
  • Jerry H. Bentley, Sanjay Subrahmanyam and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks (eds.), The Construction of a Global World, 1400-1800 CE , The Cambridge World History, Volume 6, part 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.