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Valerie Hansen
Professor of History

hansenOffice: HGS 227
Phone: 203-432-0480

Valerie Hansen is a professor of history specializing in the history of China to 1600, Chinese religious and legal history, and the history of the Silk Road. Her main research goal is to draw on nontraditional sources to capture the experience of ordinary people. In particular she is interested in how sources buried in the ground, whether intentionally or unintentionally, supplement the detailed official record of China's past. In the past decade, she has spent three years in China: 2005-06 in Shanghai on a Fulbright grant; and 2008-09 and 2011-12, teaching at Yale's joint undergraduate program with Peking University.


Her courses at Yale include Traditional China (2,000 BC - AD 1600), Voyages in World History to 1500, and The Silk Road Rediscovered, as well as seminars in Social History of the Chinese Silk Road, Issues in Tang, Song, and Yuan history, and Documents of the Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties.

Collaborative Research

The Silk Road Project: Reuniting Turfan’s Scattered Treasures, of which Hansen 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:

Selected Publications

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.

“Silu xinshi xu,” (Introduction to a New History of the Silk Road.” In Patricia Ebrey, Yao Ping, and Leo Shin (ed.) Dangdai Xifang hanxue yanjiu jicui: Zhonggushi juan (Shanghai: Shanghai Guji chubanshe, 2012), pp. 153-173.

“The Place of Coins and their Alternatives in the Silk Road Trade,” in Sichou zhilu guguo qianbi ji silu wenhua guoji xueshu taolunhui wenji [Proceedings of the Symposium on Ancient Coins and the culture of the Silk Road], ed. Shanghai Bowuguan (Shanghai: Shanghai Shuhua Chubanshe, 2011), 83–113. Chinese translation, 114-135.

“The Impact of the Silk Road trade on a local community: The Turfan Oasis, 500-800,” in Etienne de la Vaissiere and Eric Trombert (eds.), Les Sogdiens en Chine (Paris: Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient, 2005), pp. 283-310. [PDF = 3.5 MB]

“How Business was Conducted on the Chinese Silk Road during the Tang Dynasty, 618-907,” in William Goetzmann (ed.), Origins of Value (New York: Oxford University Press and the Yale International Center for Finance, 2005, pp. 43-64). [PDF = 4.1 MB]

“Religious Life in a Silk Road Community: Niya During the Third and Fourth Centuries,” in John Lagerwey (ed.), Chinese Religion and Society: The Transformation of a Field Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2004, pp. 279-315. [PDF = 3.4 MB]

“The Hejia Village Horde: A Snapshot of China’s Silk Road Trade,” Orientations 34.2 (February, 2003):14-19. [PDF = 1.2 MB]