I am the Canada Research Chair of Early Modern Studies, and I specialize in the history of China, science, and translation in early modernity. My recent book, The Monkey and the Inkpot: Natural History and its Transformations in Early Modern China (Harvard University Press, 2009), is a study of belief-making in early modern Chinese natural history through the lens of the Bencao gangmu (1596), a compendium of materia medica.
My work right now is focused on trying to understand what it has looked like throughout early modernity for people to decide that something was equivalent or identical to something else. While the broad topic lies somewhere within the history of translation, the questions more properly form the scaffolding of histories of identification, sameness, and equivalence: of words, of ideas, of sentences, of objects, of people.
I'm doing this in one book project by excavating the peoples and practices of official translation bureaus in Ming and Qing China, and I'm especially interested in dictionaries and glossaries as literary texts. In another book project I'm looking more specifically at the translation of the natural world (and images and descriptions thereof) in the Qing. What did it look like to decide, and to argue, that four names applied to the same flower, or lizard, or person? That project is a dialogic study using Chinese, Manchu, Tibetan, and Mongolian sources. In a final long-term project, I'm honing in on practices of resemblance and translation in the context of medieval and early modern Chinese-Arabic-Persian exchange.
Take a Course With Me During the 2013-2014 Academic Year
I'll be offering the following 3 courses during the coming academic year. I'm really looking forward to all of them, and you should feel free to be in touch via email if you have questions about any of them.
Hist 259: Science, Medicine, and Technology in the Ancient and Medieval World [Term 1: Fall 2013 (Tu/Th, 11:00-12:30 + tutorials; 3 credits)] - "Stories and Storytelling: Science, Medicine, and Technology in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds." Hippocrates! Alchemy! Islamic medicine! Chinese astronomy! Medieval dissection! Automata! There are many, many reasons to be fascinated with the science, medicine, and technology of the ancient and medieval worlds. This course serves as an introduction to that history, paying special attention to the connections and translations that not only made possible the knowledge of various kinds of bodies (human, animal, pharmaceutical, planetary, spiritual), but also enabled that knowledge to circulate and transform across European, East Asian, Islamic, and other contexts. We will meet three times per week, with lectures and whole-group discussions Tuesdays and Thursdays and small-group tutorials on Thursdays and Fridays. You will have an opportunity to explore historical writing in a genre of your own interest and passion. Evaluation will be based on three units, each involving a series of short writing and revision assignments culminating in polished essay (see the bit about "interest and passion" above), as well as regular and active participation in all aspects of the course. In the winter 2013 term, the theme that we will use to do all of this wonderful stuff is "Stories and Storytelling."
History 104: Disease in HistoryTerm 2: Spring 2014 [(Tu/Th 9:30-11 + tutorials TBD; 3 credits)] - "Currencies of Death and Life: Disease, Health, Medicine." This course explores the many ways that disease has shaped world history, from the bubonic plague to SARS. From horses on the Mongolian steppes, to special currency used in leper colonies in Japan, to rumors about vampires in Colonial Africa, the circulations of people, bacteria, animals, ocean currents, dead bodies, and lively ideas have defined the spaces of health and disease in the modern world. We will map those circulations over the course of the term, integrating careful attention to a wide range of primary documents with a sampling of the best of the historiography of health and disease. The course is ideal for anyone with an interest in developing a strong foundation in the history of modern medicine and the real and imagined spaces it has produced, including urban geographies of the AIDS epidemic and the post-civilizational landscapes of zombie apocalypse. We will meet three times per week, with lectures and whole-group discussions Tuesdays and Thursdays and small-group tutorials on Fridays [and another tutorial day TBD]. In the 2013 winter term, the theme for this section of History 104 is "Currencies of Death and Life: Disease, Health, Medicine."
Hist 379: Later Imperial China [Term 2: Spring 2014 (Tu/Th 3.30-5; 3 credits)] - "Later Imperial China: A History in Body Parts." Late imperial China is a fascinating historical space. This course explores its history from the Tang empire through the mid-Qing dynasty, paying special attention to some of the major non-Chinese languages and peoples that have shaped that history. The assignments are intended to help students understand how to creatively and rigorously interpret the primary documents (including texts and objects) and the best of recent historical writing about Chinese history. Rather than taking the existence of a timeless and monolithic “China” for granted, we will explore the various ways in which late imperial lands and peoples have been formed and re-formed in order to situate the period within broader narratives of global history. Fun will be had. Deep thoughts will be both conceived, and put on paper, by you. Bad jokes about The Manchu Anatomy will be made. In the 2013 winter term, the theme for History 379 is "Later Imperial China: A History in Body Parts."
Prospective Graduate Students
I especially encourage applications from motivated students working on the history of science or medicine in East Asia: with very strong History, Asian Studies, and STS departments that work harmoniously together, UBC offers an ideal environment for projects in this field. In addition, I regularly work with graduate students who focus on early modern (or late imperial, or Ming/Qing, etc etc) China, early modern science/technology/medicine, history of medicine and/or natural history, global circulation of knowledge, and historical ontology and epistemology. As a historian who is committed to deeply trans-disciplinary historical work, I'm particularly keen on working with graduate students who are similarly interested in doing work that is firmly grounded in rigorous historical methodology while speaking and learning across disciplines. If you fall into any of these categories, if you are willing to work very hard, and if you haven't yet lost your sense of goofy, excited curiosity about the world, feel free to be in touch as you consider a home for your graduate-study plans.
I will be on leave during the 2012-2013 academic year as a Fellow of the National Humanities Center (http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org). The best way to contact me during that time is via email.
For links to ongoing book projects, see:
You can find a current cv on the bottom of the page, here.
If you'd like to see some of my course syllabi, you can find them here.
New Books Network
Manchu at UBC
I taught a weekly, non-credit Introduction to Manchu seminar during the 2011-2012 academic year, and I'm likely to offer it again, pending sufficient interest. Please contact me if you're interested!
Forum for the History of Science in Asia (FHSAsia)
You can find the FHSAsia, a special interest group of the History of Science Society here. We post updates to the FHSAsia website, and to our Facebook page.