It started with a chance discovery at a second-hand book store – and ended with an appearance on the BBC’s Newshour and a New York Times feature. When my PhD student, Tricia Kehoe, came across a dusty old copy of Sue in Tibet, an obscure fictional tale of the adventures of an American missionary’s daughter in the Tibetan borderlands in the 1920s, she posted a picture of the book on Twitter. Within minutes she had received a message from Samanthi Dissanayake, Asia editor for the BBC News website. The two swapped emails and discussed the possibility of a piece based on the book. Over the next few weeks, Tricia delved into the author’s background, finding missionary documents about the historical family online, and connecting (via Twitter) with a museum in the US that houses the artefacts the family collected while in Tibet. Through the museum, she tracked down the author’s familyand uncovered the fascinating real life adventures of Dorris Shelton Still which the book dramatizes. The BBC published the resulting piece on their website, which quickly generated a buzz in the Twittersphere. A few hours after the piece was released, Dhruti Shah, a journalist at the BBC World Service, contacted Tricia via Twitter to request an interview, and an hour later she was on air talking to Newshour host James Coomarasamy. The New York Times subsequently featured the story as part of their “Women in the World” series. Count this as another victory for “the engine of creativity that is Twitter,” tweeted Dissanayake. For Tricia, this was a positive outcome. It helped to expand her public profile, generated media exposure for her research and demonstrated a capacity to engage audiences beyond the academy. In an intensely competitive academic job market, it is useful for young scholars to signal such attributes to potential employers, alongside traditional markers of academic excellence. The purpose of this research note is to explore, in a more systematic manner, whether Twitter is a useful tool for China scholars, particularly junior colleagues, and for the China studies field more generally. Full paper available for download at China Quarterly.
From January I will be joining a team of academics behind Chinet.cz, an organization that aims to connect Europe-based China scholars, in addition to providing a service for and engagement with broader audiences outside of Europe and outside of the academy. It is in terms of the latter that I will aim to make a contribution, in the guise of editor of the Contemporary China section of an online forum that will launch in January. I will be joining scholars in the fields of Chinese art, literature, history, linguistics, archaeology, religion and philosophy who will be responsible for online offerings in these areas. The online platform is conceived as a repository for specially commissioned reviews of academic books across these diverse fields and, as such, authoritative reviews written by academic specialists will feature prominently.
In addition to reviews of single academic books (written in English and Chinese), the Contemporary China section will have a number of features that I hope will provide value added for my China Studies colleagues, media professionals and readers with a general interest in China. For instance, I will publish a weekly annotated digest of significant journal articles, highlighting theoretical advances, new empirical findings and relevance to substantive developments. Particularly significant journal publications will be subject to longer treatments identifying how they contribute to existing knowledge and further our understanding of events in contemporary China. I will also be publishing regular notes on the field of China Studies, relating to the major aspects of the profession, namely research, teaching and outreach. As with the CPI blog, I aim to feature contributions from renowned China scholars from around the world, and to strongly encourage more junior colleagues to share their insights.
Academic colleagues and other China professionals reading this are encouraged to contact me with ideas for potential contributions, in the form of single or multi-book reviews, journal article reviews, state of the field pieces, thoughts on teaching or outreach in the field, methods and data, or other related issues. I very much look forward to working with colleagues on this venture and am sure that it will provide additional value to the excellent resources already out there. Happy Holidays!