Valerie Hansen

Valerie Hansen's picture
Stanley Woodward Professor of History
HQ 238
Fields of interest: 

China to 1600; Chinese religious & legal history; History of the Silk Road

Work History
History Department, Yale University
  • Stanley Woodward Professor of History, 2017-present
  • Professor of History 1998-2017
  • Associate Professor 1993-1998
  • Assistant Professor 1988-1993
Courses Taught
Lecture courses
  • China Present to Past (with Peter C. Perdue)
  • The World Circa 1000 (with Anders Winroth)
  • The Silk Road Rediscovered
  • Social History of the Chinese Silk Road
  • Issues in Tang, Song, and Yuan history
  • Documents of the Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties
  • The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World—and Globalization Began (Scribner, publication date April 14, 2020) explains how a new system of global pathways formed in the year 1000 following the Vikings’ arrival in northeastern Canada. In 1000, for the first time in world history an object or a message could travel all the way around the world. Trade goods, people, and ideas moved along these newly discovered routes. Globalization affected both those who went to new places (traders, explorers, slaves) as well as those who stayed home (religious change, riots, onerous labor conditions to produce goods for overseas markets). Europeans didn’t invent globalization. They changed and augmented what had been there since 1000. If globalization hadn’t yet begun in the Americas, Asia, and Africa, Europeans wouldn’t have been able to penetrate the markets in so many places as quickly as they did after 1492.
  • The Silk Road: A New History (Oxford University Press, 2012) presents an integrated political, social, and religious history of the Tarim Basin. This book draws on the continuing stream of archeological discoveries and philological breakthroughs to explain how this very modest commercial artery became the world’s most famous cultural superhighway. In 2017, Oxford University Press released an expanded edition for classroom use entitled, The Silk Road: A New History with Documents, which includes fifty-two primary sources in translation. With Kenneth R. Curtis, Voyages in World History (Wadsworth CENGAGE Learning, first edition, 2010; second edition, 2013, third edition 2016) is an introductory textbook that takes readers on thirty-two different journeys – starting with Mungo Man’s voyages to Australia forty thousand years ago and ending with Ai Weiwei’s travels around the world.In between, students travel to Mesopotamia with Gilgamesh, to Africa and Arabia with a Muslim on the Hajj, to Peru with a cross-dressing nun, and to the New World with the slave Equiano.
  • The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600 (Second Edition, 2015; W. W. Norton & Company, 2000) links the major political events of pre-modern China with social and cultural change. This textbook draws on unconventional sources—archeological sites, paintings, and fiction—to argue that China remained open to outside influences throughout its long history.
  • Negotiating Daily Life in Traditional China: How Ordinary People Used Contracts, 600-1400 (Yale University Press, 1995) analyzes the contracts used to buy, sell, rent, exchange, and borrow all commodities, whether land, money, goods, livestock, or people. Land contracts were also placed in tombs to give the dead title to their grave plots as well as to prevent them from being sued in the courts of the underworld. Because contracts were so widely used for all transactions, in this world and the next, this study concludes, they allow a rare glimpse of how ordinary people understood the law.
  • Changing Gods in Medieval China, 1127-1276 (Princeton University Press, 1990) argues that social and economic developments underlay the religious changes of the Southern Song. In 1100, nearly all people in south China worshiped gods who had been local residents prior to their deaths. The increasing mobility of cultivators in the lowland, rice-growing regions resulted in the adoption of gods from other places. Cults in isolated mountain regions showed considerably less change.
Collaborative Research
  • The Silk Road Project: Reuniting Turfan’s Scattered Treasures, of which I was the principal investigator, ran from 1995 to 1998. The project focused on the documents and art objects found between 1899 and the present in Turfan, an oasis near the city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang province. Plundered and then scattered across Europe and Asia in the years before World War I, many of the treasures of the Silk Road lie in archives or warehouses largely uncataloged and effectively lost to Chinese and Western scholarship. Awarded $170,000 by the Luce Foundation, the Silk Road project brought together a team of twenty-five Chinese and American scholars who drew on the disciplines of archeology, history, art history, and religious studies. Over three years, the project held three international conferences in China and the United States and compiled a bilingual Chinese-English finding guide to over 3,000 artifacts. See the website at:
Edited Volumes
  • The Silk Road Key Papers, Part I: the Pre-Islamic Period (Global Oriental, 2012) gathers twenty-nine of the most important academic papers on the Silk Road with an introduction and an index.
  • (with Helen Wang) (ed.), Textiles as Money on the Silk Road, a special issue of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 23.2 (2013)
  • (with Daniel Kane and François Louis) (ed.), Perspectives on the Liao, a special issue of the Journal of Song Yuan Studies 43 (2013 [appeared March 2015])
  • Rong Xinjiang, “The Nature of the Dunhuang Library Cave and the Reasons for its Sealing,” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 11 (1999-2000): 247-275.
  • (with Zhang Guangda) Wu Zhen, “ ‘Hu” Non-Chinese as They Appear in the Materials from the Astana Graveyard at Turfan,” Sino-Platonic Papers #119, Summer 2002.
Review Articles
East Asia