Asia Society
Homeland Afghanistan

Background

Homeland Afghanistan explores the geopolitical and cultural heritage of Afghanistan through a humanities perspective.

“Homeland” has meaning in every culture. The homeland may be where ancestors are buried, where one is born, or an adopted land. The site of both bounty and misfortune, it is a setting that connects the past to the future. The United States and Afghanistan are now inextricably linked: the only true way to secure one homeland is through understanding of the other.

Afghanistan served as a meeting place of peoples, cultures, and influence in the ancient world–and today. Website visitors will get a better understanding of people and patterns, and will find themselves compelled to think differently about the complex world region. The history is told through 75 video episodes, featuring leading experts–as well as hundreds of archaeological finds, paintings, literary works, music, photographs, and documentary films.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

A few notes on the terminology and sources used in this project:

About the names

Afghanistan is a modern country founded in 1747. Five thousand years of history across scores of empires and dynasties share one homeland in the Hindu Kush region. Boundaries change, as do names. For clarity of language, in this project we sometimes call the Hindu Kush area “Afghanistan,” even before the political entity existed. Likewise, we refer to Iran, China, Greece, Egypt, and other places–but these terms must be taken in historical context.

The project’s name was inspired by the Afghan word, watan, which loosely translates to mean “homeland.” Homeland has meaning in every culture. The homeland may be where ancestors are buried, where one is born, or an adopted land. The site of both bounty and misfortune, it is a setting that connects the past to the future. The United States and Afghanistan are now inextricably linked: the only true way to secure one homeland is through understanding of the other.

Pronunciation of words vary in this project, just as they do in real life.

About the maps

Because this project explores a period long before the days of satellite imaging, and a place that’s unaccustomed to keeping detailed records, the maps in this project are meant only to give an idea of a particular empire’s influence. We superimposed historical empires and territories over a modern political map for readability. The maps typically show the height of reign of the empire, even if the date does not correlate with the point on the timeline. Furthermore, as our project advisor Dr. Tom Barfield notes, the Hindu Kush region has what he calls a “Swiss cheese model of empire,” which means there are pockets of local authority with little regard for–and in some cases, no knowledge of–the reigning empire. This differs from the “American cheese model of empire”–China and Rome, for instance–where political might was solidly constructed and understood.

About the dates

The timeline is, by design, sometimes asynchronous. Rather than a march of history with dates and facts, this timeline shows trends over time. In one video episode, we may describe the rise, height, and wane of an artistic tradition or popular religious belief, for example, even though it really happened over the course of centuries.

About the sources

This project makes liberal use of digitized primary and secondary sources. (See the collections page for the individuals and institutions that generously contributed material.) Historical records were traditionally not kept, nor are there many historical surveys of the Hindu Kush region. Our advisors helped tell the story of the place, sometimes drawing from foreign sources, such as books by Greek historians or Chinese traveler diaries. Music, arts, and other non-textual sources reveal their own clues to the time and place. Likewise, when producing this project, we used many sources found in Afghanistan at the point in history in question, but supplemented with visuals from elsewhere, or music from the modern era. Sometimes, there is a direct connection between a foreign source and what was happening in the Hindu Kush region. At other times, images and sounds communicate a feeling for the time or place that we think is helpful, even though there is very loose or no known historical correlation.
In all cases, we provide annotated source information to help viewers weigh perspectives and the usefulness of evidence.

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We welcome corrections and constructive debate. Final responsibility for all views expressed, as well as any errors or shortcomings, rests entirely with the Asia Society team that produced this project.

We hope this project provides an enlightening introduction to the Afghanistan homeland.