“Key Texts” In Modern Chinese Political Thought Conference

Fifteen scholars from China, Taiwan, and Europe, as well as the US, met on September 27 and 28, 2019 to discuss selected key texts written by Chinese intellectuals and political activists from the late Qing period (1890s) through the Republican period (1912-1949). The conference was held at UConn-Hartford.


The texts ranged from well-known works by Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, and Mao Zedong to lesser-known writings of Yang Du and Ding Shan. The conference’s discussions were held in English and Chinese. Duan Lian, Pablo Blitstein, Wang Fansen, Gao Bo, Carl K.Y. Shaw, Wen Yu, Mara Yue Du, Axel Schneider, Gu Hongliang, Thomas Fröhlich, Li Yongjin, Shellen Wu, and Peter Zarrow gave papers, while discussants were Stephen Angle, Alexus McLeod, and Fred Lee.


The goals of the conference were to highlight new scholarship on the rich political theorizing of the period, and to help establish modern Chinese political thought as a field not only important in its own right but of interest to non-Sinophone scholars working on political theory, comparative politics, and global intellectual history. We collectively hope to continue to pursue these goals in the future. In terms of making modern Chinese political thought more transparent outside this sub-field, we will work on providing complete translations of key texts and, separately, introductions to them. These introductions will provide basic information on the text’s author, its context, its contents and significance, and its reception and influence. Both translations of complete texts and introductions to them should be of use to scholars and students. At the moment, we lack these scholarly tools—most of the translations we have are highly abridged or limited to a small number of political leaders (Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong). And the monographic literature speaks mostly to specialists.


Papers and discussion at the UConn conference centered around such themes as materiality, utopianism, and temporality, as well as more familiar topics such as secularization, legitimacy, and rights and liberty. We did not come up with a clear definition of what constitutes a “key text” and do not want to establish a canon, but rather we hope to keep open what texts are of historical and contemporary interest. Loosely speaking, we can put key texts into one of two categories: historical importance as defined by the text’s reception and influence (at the time it was disseminated or later); and intrinsic interest as defined by the text’s originality and argumentation. This conference made no attempt to claim the texts discussed could possibly represent the spectrum of political thought in twentieth-century China, but it did include texts that represented a variety of opinion—articles and books by Kang Youwei, Zhang Zhidong, Liang Qichao, Zhang Taiyan, Yang Du, Chen Duxiu, Liang Shuming, Ding Shan, Luo Longji, and Mao Zedong.


Much Chinese writing of the period of course constituted adoption, adaptation, and reflections on ideas that originated in Euro-America and Japan (or via Japan). At the same time, the influence of Confucian and Buddhist ideas on particular texts was profound. In approaching key texts, it is necessary to keep in mind various authors’ particular and original interpretations of the of the questions they were asking. The afterlife of texts is also worth considering; for example, China today has seen a revival of certain texts written a hundred years ago such as writings of Kang Youwei, which interest New Confucians, and writings of Zhang Taiyan (Binglin), which interest New Left thinkers.


In addition to opening up the question of the exact bases of modern Chinese political thought by focusing on key texts, this conference also raised the question of what counts as “political thought” in the first place. Discussions turned to the problem of the hegemony of Western political methodologies and problems, the need to encourage more comparative work, and the advantages of interdisciplinary scholarship, especially among historians, political theorists, and philosophers.


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Sponsors of the conference were the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation; and UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office, Asian and Asian American Studies Institute, Humanities Institute, Department of History, Office of Global Affairs, and Department of Philosophy. Photo Credit: Jason Chang.

History Dept. Participates in Dialogue on Race & Community

On November 19, members of the History Department joined the broader UConn community to further the discussion of how to improve the University’s support of racial justice. The Dialogue on Race and Community – a two hour gathering that included a moderated dialogue, the sharing of personal stories, and small group discussions – hoped “that such listening can lead to understanding, and from understanding can come actions that make UConn a more just, equitable, and inclusive community.”

Dialogue on Race and Community

The event was hosted by Glenn Mitoma, Neag/Director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, and co-moderated by Dominique Battle-Lawson, Neag, and Brendan Kane/History, Director of the Dodd Center’s Democracy and Dialogues Initiative. For more information about the event, click here. A statement from Director Mitoma can be found here.


Q&A with UCHI Fellow Daniel A. Cohen

daniel a cohen uchiOne of the many privileges of being part of the UConn community is the History Department’s access to the impressive scholars at the UConn Humanities Institute (UCHI). This year’s cohort of fellows includes Daniel A. Cohen, Associate Professor of History at Case Western Reserve University. His project, titled “Burning the Charlestown Convent: Private Lives, Public Outrage, and Contested Memories in America’s Civil War Generation,” is a microhistory of the 1834 Convent riot and provides a thought-provoking analysis of sectarian conflict, gender relations, political rivalry, and popular culture in America. The UConn community is lucky to have Professor Cohen with us for the year and the History Department is honored to have conducted a Q&A with him.

  1. Your current project, titled Burning the Charlestown Convent: Private Lives, Public Outrage, and Contested Memory in America’s Civil War Generation, is a microhistory of the 1834 Charlestown, Massachusetts Ursuline convent riot and the contested memory of the event that culminates in the 1854 rise of the nativist Know-Nothing movement in Massachusetts. What inspired you to pursue this project, and how has the experience of researching your previous three books informed your current research approach and writing process?

Originally, I had planned to write a chapter on Rebecca Reed, a key figure in the Charlestown convent controversy, as part of a broader study of “images of working-class women in the early republic.”  But as my research into Reed and the Ursulines began yielding all sorts of surprising evidence, I decided to turn the project into a book.  By the way, another chapter-length case study envisioned as part of that original project culminated in one of my other books: “The Female Marine” and Related Works (1997).  Over the years, most of my scholarship has taken the form of long journal articles (usually thirty to sixty pages in print).  That’s the scholarly format or genre with which I’m most comfortable: the long introductions to my two edited volumes were also published as journal articles; most of the chapters of my first monograph, Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace (1993), either were, or could have been, published as free-standing pieces; and I’ve published four long journal articles drawn from my current convent project.  In terms of methodology, almost all of my past publications, as well as my current project, combine social-historical archival research with analysis of popular print culture.  Perhaps because I was trained by expert practitioners of the New Social History but came of age at a time of growing interest in what is sometimes referred to as the New Cultural History (including History of the Book), my own scholarship has tended to straddle that broad disciplinary transition in focus and methods.


  1. Your Fellows Talk at UCHI, titled “Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures Reconsidered: From “Me Too” to “Fake News” in the Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of an Anti-Catholic Genre, 1845-1960,” draws a striking comparison between Maria Monk’s “bogus account” of criminal acts in a Canadian convent, which is first dismissed and then resurrected by anti-Catholic presses in the early 1900s, and today’s “fake news” and right-wing media. At what point in the project did this comparison occur to you, and does it reflect a characteristic unique to American society, particularly in regard to the interplay between religion and media?

Some of the parallels between the toxic nativism pervading right-wing political discourse over the past decade and the nativism of the 1830s are simply inescapable.  By the mid-1830s, Boston newspapers were filled with complaints about incoming hordes of Irish Catholic immigrants who were supposedly degrading or subverting American culture and values (on both ethnic and sectarian grounds); overwhelming the region’s court dockets, prisons, almshouses, and asylums; burdening taxpayers; taking jobs away from the native-born; and driving down wages—and all of that was before the really massive influxes of the 1840s and 1850s.  Sound familiar?

More broadly, there is an analogy to be drawn between the generational “culture wars” of the 1830s through 1850s—involving race (slavery), nativism, and other divisive social issues—and the “culture wars” of the “baby-boomers” that defined the 1960s and have been festering ever since.  The “Young America” generation that came of age in the 1830s amid a wave riots (including the burning of the Charlestown convent) and radical social reform movements eventually came to power in the 1850s by tearing the country apart—and provoking the Civil War.  A century and a half later, in the election of 2016, the two major presidential candidates—Clinton and Trump—were “baby boomers” whose formative experiences were on opposite sides in the “culture wars” of the 1960s.  We still await the denouement.  But it is surely no coincidence that all four serious efforts to impeach U.S. presidents have involved one or the other of those two extraordinary American generations (and, in three of the four cases, involved actual members of those generations).

One big difference between then and now is that the “progressives” on race during the antebellum period—the radical abolitionists (mostly evangelical Protestants)—also tended to be the most virulent nativists; today, by contrast, the racists and the nativists are on the same side.

Is the interplay between sectarian conflict and mass media unique to America?  Certainly not.  The successive waves of virulent anti-Catholic propaganda in the U.S. beginning in the 1830s were closely linked to similar upsurges in the U.K.; and today, of course, kindred varieties of nativist nationalism, often linked to sectarian conflicts, thrive in many countries.  Still, the relative openness of the United States throughout most of its history to successive waves of mass immigration by disparate groups has provided unusually dramatic provocations for American nativist movements; conversely, our founding documents and civic traditions provide unusually strong bases for resistance to nativist impulses.


  1. One of the critiques of “mainstream media” is that it is tied to east coast elites. When describing the presses of the early 1900s anti-convent narratives, you refer to them as “based in such cultural backwaters as Aurora, Missouri, and Milan, Illinois, which catered to the tastes of rural Protestant traditionalists and other bigoted, prurient, or unsophisticated readers.” How does your research help you judge which readers are “unsophisticated”?

I probably fiddled with that sentence in my abstract—and talk—more than any other.  I often beseech my students to avoid easy and condescending moral judgments in their historical analysis.  Obviously, “bigoted,” “prurient,” and “unsophisticated” are loaded terms—so maybe I should have stuck with “rural Protestant traditionalists.”  But Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures really had been utterly debunked during the 1830s—and some of her “revelations” were fairly implausible on their face.  Some of the other claims and conspiracy theories of the anti-Catholic presses of the early 1900s were similarly far-fetched, such as the theory that implicated the Pope in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  These were the “Pizzagates” of their era.  How should one characterize readers who eagerly consume such material?  Unsophisticated?  Naïve?  Gullible?  Paranoid?


  1. What advice do you have to graduate students who also are interested in writing a microhistory?

By way of encouragement, I would point out that digitization has made the archival grunt work involved in researching many microhistories a lot easier than it’s ever been before.  About thirty years ago, the great American social historian Paul E. Johnson described to me the many months he’d spent driving around New England—going from archive to archive, court house to court house, town hall to town hall—struggling to reconstruct the perambulations of the shiftless rural shoemaker who figures as the protagonist in “The Modernization of Mayo Greenleaf Patch: Land, Family, and Marginality in New England, 1766-1818” (New England Quarterly, 1982).  When he later took a position at the University of Utah, Johnson was amazed to find that virtually all of the archival materials that he had so painstakingly gathered were available on microfilm—under one roof—at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  Today, many of those same records are accessible to any researcher, anywhere, with an internet connection—via ancestry.com and a few other huge online databases.  Students who pursue microhistorical projects, should be sure to take full advantage of such powerful databases through relentless (and creative) key-word searching.  The example of “The Modernization of Mayo Greenleaf Patch—one of my all-time favorite microhistories—also suggests a second piece of advice: microhistorical projects are often ideally suited to the essay or article format.  Even Natalie Zemon Davis’s The Return of Martin Guerre–perhaps the most famous of all scholarly microhistories—is actually about midway in length between a long article and a short monograph.

UConn Conference: Key Texts in Modern Chinese Political Thought

This Friday and Saturday, September 27-28, UConn-Hartford will be hosting the “Key Texts in Modern Chinese Political Thought: Late Qing to Republican China” conference.

The conference focuses on selected “key texts” in Chinese political thought from roughly the first half of the twentieth century.  Conference papers will analyze texts in terms of their sources and argumentation, their position in the discursive field, and their contribution to political theory.  The conference as a whole asks what counts as political theory, what political theorists might learn from China, and how to construct a larger list of key texts from China.

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Professor Peter Zarrow

Alongside Thomas Fröhlich (Universität Hamburg), Professor Peter Zarrow (UConn) has organized the conference. The conference is co-sponsored by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation and the University of Connecticut.

All are invited to attend, but space is limited, so registration is required, and the conference organizers will get back to you.  The registration webpage also links to the conference program.  Registration and program can be found here.

Heather A. Parker Excellence in Historical Writing Award

2015 History Learning Community kickoff w/ First Year Programs
2015 HuskyWOW Learning Community Kickoff, History LC. L-R: Matthew Talley ’19, Heather Parker, Christina Deoss ’19, Ted Piekarz ’18, Sarah Velcofsky ’18.

In November 2018, a fund was established by Heather A. Parker, the first staff academic advisor for the History Department, in order to create the Excellence in Historical Writing Award. The award will be presented to an undergraduate History major, from any campus, who has produced an exemplary specimen of historical writing. The recipient will be recognized for a paper that presents a well-researched historical argument with clarity, coherence, and style, and the award will be given at the History Department’s Prize Day celebration at the end of the semester. Inspired by Parker’s donation, the History Department faculty are making a joint contribution.

Alumni and friends will be able to contribute to the Parker Award in Historical Writing fund during UConn Gives, the University’s 36-hour giving initiative, on March 27-28, 2019. Mark your calendars and find out more at: https://givingday.uconn.edu.

The Encounters Series: New Directions for Public Humanities from UConn

Encounters Series Dialogue

Participants discuss wealth inequality in an Encounters Series event at the Hartford History Center at the Hartford Public Library in 2017. Image courtesy of the Encounters Series.


“The Encounters Series grew out of a desire to build connections between a land-grant university
and its state,” Brendan Kane of the UConn Department of History explains. “We wanted to move
beyond the kind of typical mode of interaction, which is the lecture or the panel,” Kane says. “I love lectures and panels, but we wanted to do things that were more active. We wanted to get UConn faculty more out into the world, making a research university that’s state-supported more accessible to the people in the communities that we serve.” With this in mind, Kane began exploring models of conflict resolution and public conversations.”

The success of the Encounters series was recently highlighted by the National Humanities Alliance in an interview with Professor Kane: https://humanitiesforall.org/projects/encounters

The line-up of recent and upcoming events, including a discussion on “Emily Mae Smith and #MeToo” on March 9, in the series can be found here:

Veterans History Project Launch

Nearly twenty years ago, Congress launched the Veterans History Project, an ambitious effort coordinated by the Library of Congress and run through local centers to gather the oral histories of US veterans.

Starting this spring, UConn is joining the work, aiming to reach and record a wide range of veterans across New England as they tell their stories.  The Veterans History Project at UConn is a joint endeavor of the Department of History and Veterans Affairs and Military Programs.

Anyone who’s willing to do the training can become an interviewer. For UConn students, there is an opportunity, starting this spring and continuing in the coming years, to earn internship credits while working as an interviewer, gathering important stories and developing useful skills.

On Monday, March 4, we will be kicking off the new program with a public event at Werth Hall. There will be breakfast and lunch for attendees, as well as parking validation for those coming from off-campus.  The morning will begin with introductions to the project and discussion of the value of stories and the importance of oral history. It will continue after lunch with free training for anyone interested in becoming an interviewer for the project.


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Professor Fiona Vernal will be speaking at the event and coordinating the internship, together with Heather Parker.  Feel free to contact them with any questions at Fiona.vernal@uconn.edu or heather.parker@uconn.edu.  More details can be found here.

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Asia Maritime Panel – February 7, 2019

UPDATE: For The Daily Campus‘s review of the panel, click here.


On February 7, 2019, the UConn Department of History invites you to join a panel of leading experts in a timely discussion surrounding the seas of Northeast and Southeast Asia. Moderated by Ambassador (ret.) Kathleen Stephens who served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea from 2008-2011, the panel features distinguished speakers with specializations in security, history, law, and geography. Topics to discuss include: strategic and international law issues involving American and Chinese competition over the western Pacific, humanitarian concerns related to human trafficking, and troubling environmental problems, such as the depletion of fisheries.

Speakers and moderator include: Ambassador (ret.) Kathleen Stephens (CEO of Korea Economic Institute of America), Dr. James Kraska (Naval War College), Professor Lee Sung-Yoon (Tufts University), Professor Geoffrey Gresh (National Defense University), and Dr. Kevin Evringham (Department of Defense).


Beginning at 4 pm, the panel will take place at the Konover Auditorium in the Thomas J. Dodd Center. All are welcome to attend the reception that will follow. To RSVP, please visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/asia-maritime-panel-tickets-55340739642


The University of Connecticut Department of History is grateful for the generous sponsorship of the CLAS Humanities Institute, the Office of the Dean, the Office of the Provost, the Department of Geography, the Asian and Asian-American Studies Institute, and the Asian American Cultural Center.