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Rian Thum

Associate Professor of History - On Leave

Rian Thum
Rian Thum

Rian Thum’s research and teaching are generally concerned with the overlap of China and the Muslim World. His book,  The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History (Harvard University Press, 2014) argues that the Uyghurs - and their place in China today - can only be understood in the light of longstanding traditions of local pilgrimage and manuscript culture.  The study uses manuscripts in Chaghatay and Persian, contemporary Uyghur novels, graffiti, and ethnographic fieldwork to uncover a complex of historical practices that offer new perspectives on what history is and how it works. 

The book was awarded the 2015 Fairbank prize for East Asian history (American Historical Association), the 2015 Hsu prize for East Asian Anthropology (Society for East Asian Anthropology, American Anthropological Association), and the 2015 Central Eurasian Studies Society Book Award.

Thum’s current book project, Islamic China, is a re-examination of Chinese Islam that takes full account of the numerous Persian and Arabic sources that Chinese Muslims have used and written. It re-evaluates Chinese-language Islamic traditions in light of their multilingual contexts and uncovers the role of Persianate Islamic networks in binding China and India together over the last 400 years. More generally, his research interests include historical anthropology, mobility, orality and writing, historiography, the history of money, and the place of non-Han peoples in China.​​

Recent Publications

  • “Untangling the Bughrakhan Manuscripts,” in Mazar: Studies on Islamic Sacred Sites in Central Eurasia, eds. Sugawara Jun and Rahile Dawut. Tokyo: Tokyo University of Foreign Studies Press, 2016, 275-288.
  • The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History. Harvard University Press, 2014. (Winner of the 2015 Fairbank Prize, American Historical Association; Winner of the 2015 Central Eurasian Studies Society Book Prize)
  • "China in Islam: Turki views from the 19th-20th centuries." Cross-currents.
  • “Modular History: Identity Maintenance before Uyghur Nationalism.” Journal of Asian Studies, August 2012.
  • “Beyond Resistance and Nationalism: Local History and the Case of Afaq Khoja.” Central Asian Survey, September 2012.


Ph.D., Harvard University, 2010; B.A., University of Missouri, 2000

Classes Taught

  • Global History I
  • Chinese History I
  • Modern China
  • Rebellion and Revolution in China
  • Islam in China, China in Islam
  • History's Anthropology
  • Money and Meaning
  • Games, Fictions, and Power in China