Sources in Chinese History: A Course and Site for Undergrads

August 29th, 2009 § 2 comments

One of my main pedagogical projects this fall is the development of a sources curriculum for undergraduate students with an interest in modern Chinese history. At UMW, we require all history majors to undertake a senior thesis (independent research, 30-40 pages), which is often quite a challenge for students, particularly those pursuing research on global topics. One of my ongoing aims has been to establish a sources website that would be geared toward our undergraduates who enroll for the thesis project in my own field– i.e., students with a clear interest in Chinese history, who have completed background courses on the topic, but who do not necessarily have Chinese language ability. 1

I’ve been developing the first edition of this project in collaboration with UMW history major Joe Calpin, who is embarking upon an independent study on “Sources in Modern Chinese History” under my guidance this fall.  The curriculum here is intended to provide a critical familiarity with major genres of sources as well as useful reference works and tools, journals in the field, and online resources.

One of the central projects for this independent study will also be the design of a sources website. Though very much a working project, the idea is that this site would transcend this particular independent study and, ideally, our own campus, in serving as a reference site for undergrads elsewhere. Our intended audience is students who may be working on their own research projects but who may not quite have the linguistic training they need to dive directly into Chinese-language sources. In many ways, the website is being conceptualized as a stepping stone to more advanced online resources in Chinese history such as the UCSD Modern Chinese History Research Site and the Classical Historiography for Chinese History site compiled by Benjamin Elman.

To further this project — and create a resource of its own — I’ve established a library for the course at Zotero Groups (see the group library for “History 491” at our “History and American Studies: Univ. of Mary Washington” Zotero group site located here or at the link on the right side of this blog.) I’ve outlined a set of sources categories in sub-folders there (still tweaking and expanding… further suggestions welcome.) As Joe Calpin and I work on the independent study this fall, we’ll be adding to this sources group, building up a selective bibliography of relevant works, collections, and web-links. This will serve as the bibliographic reference, as currently imagined, for a partner website to be designed and composed by Joe, 2  that will offer a more detailed description and critical introduction to sources in Chinese history…

Above is an introduction to the project we’ve undertaken.  I’ll be using this site as a place for hashing out ideas for the project’s development and providing updates of its progress.  Suggestions are always welcome – and gratefully appreciated…

Questions for the crowd:

1. The categories listed below are the ones that currently appear in our Zotero file for the site, a list to which I’m still actively adding. I’d welcome suggestions for further categories to add, divisions to consider, and more…

2. Are there other topics or components for the site that folks (faculty, undergraduate students) out there in Chinese history would find helpful?

3. I’ll be sending out a call for nominations for primary source collections, among other types of titles and resources, to be listed in the group… suggestions ahead of that call are always welcome.

Categories currently listed for our Zotero bibliography:

That list is building out of a more haphazard brainstorm of genres I’m looking to cover within the frame that’s being constructed. To share my rough notes:

  • key journals (e.g. Journal of Asian Studies, Late Imperial China, Modern China, China Quarterly, Harvard Journal of Asian Studies)
  • english-language historiog and research collections (e.g. Cambridge History of China; Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization Series)
  • translated compendia of sources (e.g. Taiping volumes…)
  • key reference websites (UCSD; Elman; et al)
  • key online search engines
  • key online archives (textual, visual, etc.)
  • online listservs (H-Net; Asian Studies WWW Monitor; others? )
  • key English-language reference works (biography; titles; etc.)
  • advice for other students re: basic reference shelf (English language and Chinese language)

Footnotes:

  1. My work here is much in the spirit of that of my colleague in Soviet and Russian history at UMW, Steven Harris, who has created a very useful website on primary sources in that field to help his own students in their research.
  2. And with the ever-generous help of the folks at UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) who have established UMWBlogs as a realm for digital projects.

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