China and Inner Asia
New opportunities to conduct fieldwork have transformed scholarly perspectives on China’s history. Fieldwork has inspired us with new perspectives on ritual and ecology, allowed us to walk historical landscapes alongside the people who lived key events, and given us access to a wealth of temple inscriptions, land deeds, contracts and family genealogies. Beyond such traditional techniques as participant observation and recorded interviews, historians have also embraced new technologies to measure urban soundscapes, and source data from local volunteers.
Chaired by Linda Grove, this roundtable brings five experienced fieldwork historians to introduce some of the benefits, challenges and new opportunities for historical fieldwork in China.
The discussion opens with five different perspectives on the doors that fieldwork can open. Michael Szonyi begins with a very practical question: as a historian of the Ming dynasty, what can one hope to find that has not been moved, destroyed, or forgotten? May Bo Ching takes us on a walk around Guangzhou, to show the history that is still visible in a modern city. Xi He compares ethnologies of Hainan conducted during the rural reform and ethnic classification campaigns of the 1950s with work being done today. Discussing China’s beef industry, Thomas DuBois shows how the journey of a physical object can lead the researcher across the meanings and relations of production. Jan Kiely introduces the vast trove of resources that have been collected for local Intangible Cultural Heritage.
From there, each participant will briefly answer three questions:
What is your fieldwork “method,” and what does it aim to uncover?
How do you incorporate fieldwork with other techniques and sources?
What are some pitfalls or dangers of using fieldwork as a historical source?
Prepared comments will be brief, leaving half of the allotted time to discussion. Following the example of recent roundtables, we will extend the life of the discussion by posting brief materials online before the event, and by collecting questions in real time via a messaging app.