Abstract: Anchoring Historic Places into Landscapes of Memory and Experience: Looking to the Medieval Trade and Travel Routes of Northern South Asia

The conception of a journey typically presupposes two things; first that a route or path will be taken and second that the success of the journey will be marked by the arrival at some predetermined destination. Journeys and the routes that structure them can be examined as singular events despite often containing multiple stages of “journeying”. For travelers each stage culminates with the arrival at some service facility or layover locale; often some way-station on the path to the ultimate destination. These minor destinations are not as ubiquitous and unassuming as we might be inclined to think. Their variance and variable remembrance is tied to the experiences and memories they anchor.


Places derive meaning not from the moment in which experience occurs but from the memory of experiences and the associations that memories can begin to underpin and legitimize. When we wish to explore or present historic routes for public consumption, what we are endeavoring to do is to highlight the experience of places that might otherwise be seen as repetitive and similar and as such forgettable.


In this lecture I use the medieval trade and travel routes from northern South Asia to discuss how routes in the past derived meaning by memorializing collective experiences and manipulating collective memories to legitimize systems of rule. Furthering this I expand my historic examination of memory to consider the ongoing construction and manipulation of historic identity to service new travel and transit systems – ones that depend on cultural tourism. Along ancient transit systems places of the past are being rediscovered, repackaged, and reintroduced in the collective memories of a nation and in the individual memories of tourists – becoming stages on cultural journeys of discovery.


The digital realm is also assisting in this reintroduction of historic places to those seeking tourism that allows them to “live the past”. Tourists are increasingly engaged through digital media and communication technologies that plan journeys around the history of a region, route, and/or place. Decisions about travel are influenced by the ability of the locale in question to self-promote its cultural or historic identity and authenticate its presentation of a legitimate past. This raises several questions; does the veracity of the historic presentation matter? How do the seemingly repetitious stages on a travel route from deeper history make themselves valid and sought after in the cacophony of historic voices? Which brown heritage sign will one visit while travelling the UK? Which basilica in Italy? Which temple/palace/tomb in India? These decisions can be made for the tourist as tours are planned and presented in “packages to the past”. What happens though when the narrative changes; or new narratives find their voice? Who orchestrates historic memory and directs travel along the transit systems of time?


Short bibliography on lecture topic:


Schimmel, Annemarie 2004 The Empire of the Great Mughals, History, Art and Culture. Reaktion Books Limited: London.

Sinopoli, Carla 1994 Monumentality and Mobility in Mughal Capitals. Asian Perspectives 33(2):293-308.