Chinese and Arabic Literatures at the End of Empire, 1850–1950

At the end of the nineteenth century, intellectuals in Beijing, Cairo, Shanghai, and Beirut grappled with problems that were strikingly similar: the question of whether the written language could transmit modern knowledge; pressure to reconcile classical learning with “modern” (understood as Western) thought; the role of traditionally-educated people in new institutions; and the authority granted to those who could import, or translate, modern knowledge. My project investigates the surprising points of connection between two moments in history that are ordinarily seen as discrete, if not unique in world history. Chinese and Arabic Literatures at the End of Empire pursues an almost entirely new line of inquiry in comparative literary and historical studies, connecting the intellectual “enlightenment” in China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with the “enlightenment” or “awakening” (Nahḍah) in Arabic-language cultural and intellectual history of the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth century. Through a historically and linguistically rigorous account of these developments in Chinese and Arabic-language worlds, this project pushes the limits of the methods of global intellectual and cultural history and comparative literature.

This book is under advance contract with Oxford University Press. From 2016–2019 this project was supported by a Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars from the American Council of Learned Societies, which allowed me to be a Scholar in Residence at the John W. Kluge Center at Library of Congress in 2016–2017 and January–July 2019. (You can see how I originally formulated the project here.) Portions of this study are forthcoming in PMLA and The Cambridge Companion to World Literature.

Muslims in Modern China: A Sourcebook

Co-edited with Prof. Kristian Petersen of Old Dominion University. Muslims in Modern China: A Sourcebook, will be the first collection of primary sources on Muslims and Islam in modern China to be published in English. By translating sources from multiple languages—Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Persian, Uyghur, and others—into English, our project will be the first and only book to make such a wide range of documents and sources available in one place and in a single language. The Sourcebook will contribute to teaching and research in the humanities on questions that lie at the core of modern Chinese history and politics: How have the states that have administered part or all of “China”—the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), the Republic of China, and the People’s Republic of China—tried to bring together a diverse set of ethnic groups, languages, and religions, into a single, modern nation-state? How have religion, language, and ethnicity contributed to this ongoing negotiation of identity? The Sourcebook will bring together previously unheard perspectives on these questions and stimulate the development of scholarship and teaching in fields such as Asian history, Middle Eastern history, Islamic studies, religious studies, and comparative cultural studies. More broadly, the project will contribute to the study of minority religious identities around the world, to historical research on the movement of Islamic writings and ideas through Asia, and to research on translation practices between West Asian languages (e.g. Arabic, Persian, etc.) and Central and East Asian languages (e.g. Uyghur, Modern and classical Chinese, etc.) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

We had planned to convene a workshop in April 2020 at William & Mary with a group or core contributors to read translations-in-progress. Unfortunately, this event had to be postponed, but because our contributors for the project had already begun work on their translations, over the summer and fall of 2020 we held a series of remote workshop sessions to discuss their works in progress. In December 2020 we submitted a proposal to the NEH Translations & Editions grants program, and we are continuing to solicit contributions and will submit a proposal to a publisher soon.

Avalanche: Critical Writings on Contemporary China

A collection of key essays in English translation by the scholar and critic Li Tuo. Co-edited with Anatoly Detwyler of University of Wisconsin-Madison.