Seminar 29 April – Troy Sternberg

March 25th, 2014 by

Mond Building Seminar Room

4.30–6.00

All welcome

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Troy Sternberg

University of Oxford

Desert Boundaries: the Once and Future Gobi

Abstract:

When Marco Polo journeyed to the court of Kublai Khan in 1271 he traversed a great sandy desert filled with ‘extraordinary illusions’ that passed through several name changes before becoming known as the Gobi, the world’s third largest desert. Early atlases and writings have identified the vast expanse beyond

China’s Great Wall since the 16th century. The term Gobi first appears in a 1706 French map; its continued usage is a rare case of Mongolian ascendancy over the Chinese. In our era of data and demarcation with place names used to confer past ownership I examine how the Mongolian term ‘gobi’ rather than the Chinese equivalent ‘shamo’ survived and consider if the past offers insight to present conceptualization and gives an indication of future implications.

Through exploration of the Gobi as a mapping term research seeks to understand how the desert was conceptualized and identified as a geographical region and as an economic sphere and a political presence. Historically contested between China and Russia with Mongolia as a proxy, the desert is now a source of mineral riches, 25 million people and rapid development. Yet the term Gobi is not recognized in China’s geographical lexicon. China dominates the economic sphere without asserting physical control; does past suzerainty suggest a future inclination? New contextualization presents the Gobi as a multi-dimensional space that, rather than a past construction, portends an emergent consciousness no longer isolated and insulated from regional and global currents.