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2016 NEH Summer Institute


“Modern Mongolia: Heritage and Tradition Amid Changing Realities”

June 6 - July 1, 2016, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Scope of the Institute

Project Content and Schedule
Project Faculty and Staff
Individual Projects


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Project Content and Schedule

The weekly model and format of the proposed Institute will build on the successful 2014 NEH Summer Institute conducted by Morris Rossabi titled The Mongols and the Eurasian Nexus of Global History, with plenary sessions along with discussions and small group work on special interest topics. The Institute’s expert presenters will again spend extra time with the group of participants, in order to address new questions and ideas that participants may have. Each Friday will be totally dedicated to engaging participants to follow up on the week’s material when Professor Rossabi and principal speakers from the week will open the floor for questions, discussion, and ideas.

CLICK HERE for a detailed pdf file daily schedule for the 2016 NEH Summer Institute on Modern Mongolia

Following is a the plan of study:

The first week of the program will provide participants with a framework for understanding modern Mongolia. It will focus on Mongolia’s premodern history, environment, and geography, as well as foreign cultures that influenced traditional Mongolia and continue to do so until the present. Institute Director Morris Rossabi will present general background on Mongolia, as well as the Institute’s goals on the first day, and selected periods of Mongolia’s ancient history that have particular relevance to modern cultural identity will be highlighted, followed by a general overview of modern Mongolia. Premodern visual arts and architecture of Mongolia will next be the theme, with a plenary session by Nancy Steinhardt (University of Pennsylvania). Professor Steinhardt will introduce the material remains of the Xiongnu, Türks, Uyghurs, Kitan, Jurchen, and Mongols, as well as selected monasteries and palaces of the nineteenth century.  The visual material discussed will be drawn from Professor Steinhardt’s own travel in Mongolia, and it will be compared with art and architecture in China, Tibet, and Korea. Links between the past and present will also be explored as these cultural legacies are reclaimed as “Mongolian heritage”. Professor Steinhardt’s presentation will be supplemented by a trip Friday to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for a guided tour of both the Asian and Islamic wings with Curator John Guy. Then, in the afternoon, participants will meet with New York City-based Mongolian artists, who will reveal the influence of traditional motifs and patterns on their works. Tibetan-influenced Mongolian art will also be a topic of discussion this week, and the group will also visit the Rubin Museum in New York City for a guided tour. The Museum has a good collection of Mongolian paintings, and Professor Rossabi, who has taught a course at the Museum and has frequently lectured there, will supplement the presentation made by the Curators. Finally, Pamela Crossley (Dartmouth University) will provide an analysis of steppe empires and intercultural contacts in the period after the fall of the Mongolian Empire until the collapse of the Qing dynasty’s control over Mongolia in 1911. She will emphasize the institutions established by Manchu and Chinese officials to impose their rule over Mongolia and will describe the reasons for the growth of Tibetan Buddhism in the country. Professor Crossley will also discuss the legacy of the Manchus as a people and a culture in Mongolia and Northeast Asia.


In the second week, legacies of twentieth century social change will be plenary topics, focusing on revolutionary ideas, and communism, as well as political and cultural influences from the Soviet Union and China. Vehicles for explaining the Mongol experience of the twentieth century will be the Mongolian fine arts of literature, music, and dance. Professor Christopher Atwood (Indiana University-Bloomington) will begin the week with two plenary sessions on post-Qing Mongolia. The first presentation will be an analysis and discussion of domestic and foreign ideas of revolution in Mongolian revolutionary literature. The second presentation will emphasize Mongolia’s unique experience among regional and global political movements of the twentieth century, and how connections to China and the Soviet Union influenced Sino-Soviet diplomacy from 1911 to 1952. Professor Atwood’s discussion of the literature of the times will offer a unique perspective for an understanding of the impact of revolutionary change on the individual in early twentieth-century Mongolia. Later in the week Peter Marsh (California State University) will analyze the impact of so-called “Mongolian traditional music”, heavily influenced by the socialist government, and on the secret preservation of traditional music during the era of socialist realism. A musician from Washington D.C.’s Mongolian Culture Center (MCC) will provide performances on the horse-head fiddle—perhaps the most well-known and representative of Mongolian traditional music—and with traditional dance, with Professor Marsh as a guide to help contextualize the significance of the music. Finally, the Mongolian ideas of “land” and “homeland” will be explored with a plenary session conducted by Elizabeth Endicott (Middlebury College), in which examples of folk poetry—an essential art form of the Mongol steppe—illustrate how land has been viewed by Mongols and how land use has changed over the past century. Professor Rossabi will finish the week’s presentations with a discussion of the Soviet Union’s influence on the other Mongolian arts, particularly ballet and opera, and on the Mongolian integration of these new art forms with traditional culture. Professor Rossabi has written extensively on Mongolian ballet and opera and plans to invite a Mongolian dancer from the Boston Ballet to perform.

Week three will focus on current challenges and problems in modern Mongolia, and how the people of Mongolia are adapting to change. In some cases, that change causes demographic shifts, sometimes due to changing environment, job availabilities, or even political pressures.  Migration is the second theme for the week, as the topic of Mongolian diaspora communities will be explored. Change also comes with social relationships, and the third theme of the week will be the changing roles of women in Mongolia. The week will begin with a plenary session led by Clyde Goulden (Academy of Natural Sciences/Drexel University), and will focus on shifting livelihoods for herders of the northwest of Mongolia, emphasizing the influence of environmental change on their culture. Professor Goulden will draw on his experience in interviewing herders from Mongolia’s Khovsgol region, on what they’ve perceived changing in their climate over the past 20 years, and how they are dealing with these conditions. Next, Professor Johan Elverskog (Southern Methodist University) will present on a notable religious revival that has happened in Mongolia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This presentation will reflect on the return to Tibetan Buddhism by many, a renewed interest in shamanism, and the appearance and popularity of newer religions such as Christianity and Islam. Professor Rossabi will then lead a session on Mongol diaspora communities in the United States. Professor Rossabi will be reflecting on the many interviews he has carried out for a book project, with Mongolians who have decided to settle in the U.S. This session will also help to contextualize an afternoon trip to a guided tour of the nearby Kalmyk Mongol community Buddhist temple in Howell, New Jersey. This tour will highlight local Mongol diaspora communities, as well as offer a glimpse of diversity in Mongol religious life. Finally, Professor Rossabi will provide background on traditional roles of women in Mongolian history citing particularly famous examples from within Khubilai Khan’s family. This presentation will provide the context for an afternoon session with Professor Susan Witte (Columbia University), who will discuss how Mongolian women’s identities have evolved and what this means for women’s health and well-being.

The fourth and final week will begin with two final plenary sessions and the remainder of the week will be focused on assisting participants with development of their projects, final participant presentations, and final discussions of all four weeks’ themes. Charles Krusekopf (ACMS/Royal Roads University) will focus on Mongolia’s natural resource development and the enormous impacts these developments have had on culture, environment, and government. This presentation will combine Professor Krusekopf’s experience monitoring modern Mongolia’s incredible natural resource development, as well as its impact on Mongolia’s political system, natural environment, and tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The second and final presentation will be by Dr. William Fitzhugh (Smithsonian Institution), on protecting Mongolia’s tangible cultural heritage. This presentation will relate to Dr. Fitzhugh’s own archaeological work in Mongolia on deer stone monuments around the country—ancient monuments that are generally very far from towns—and relics sold illegally on the black market.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

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