CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

E. J. Keall, E. Nagai-Berthrong and John E. Vollmer.

Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, c1983.
240pp, paper, $19.95.
ISBN 0-88854-301-8.

Reviewed by Adele Ashby.

Volume 12 Number 2
1984 March

Silk Roads China Ships is the first major exhibition mounted by the newly re-opened Royal Ontario Museum, one that will go on the international circuit. It tells the story of trade between the West and the East, from the second century B. C., to modern times. Our modern word, "trade," derives from a Saxon word meaning footstep. The footsteps of explorers, traders, and priests in pursuit of the exotic, profit, and new converts, opened up new worlds. The over four hundred items show the cultural, economic, political, and social effects of those contacts, which lead to the dissemination of arts and technologies, manners and customs, religions and world views. The overall effect of the exhibition is to impress on us how intricately the various cultures were interconnected.

Two thirds of the book set the scene with an overview of the political, social, and cultural histories of the peoples involved. Separate sections cover important themes in the exhibition, such as silk, spices, and Buddhism, and their dissemination; map-making; and ROM excavations along the Silk Road in Iran. What follows is the catalogue of the exhibition. There is a selected reading list, foreword, preface, and introduction, but no index. Like so many books that accompany exhibitions, this one may well be only of real interest to those who have actually seen the objects. The contextualization sections assume a great deal of prior knowledge on the part of the reader, and the bibliography is too selective to allow serious follow-up. The book is not really useful, then, as an introduction to east-west trade and will probably only be considered for purchase by special collections.

Adele Ashby, Toronto, ON.
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