Associate Professor, History

I’m the Canada Research Chair in Early Modern Studies and Associate Professor of History at the University of British Columbia. My main research fields are the histories of science and medicine, early modern (Ming-Qing) China, and translation, and I currently work and teach in Manchu studies.

Broadly speaking, I study translation among words, individuals, materials, and bodies. I like to play with conventional forms of historical narrative and to open up and rework the basic building blocks of the historian’s craft. I think a lot about how historians create their objects, and what the consequences of a more dynamic understanding of materiality and the relationships between objects might be for practicing the art of history (broadly) and for writing histories of translated and multiple objects (specifically).

My first book, The Monkey and the Inkpot: Natural History and its Transformations in Early Modern China (Harvard University Press, 2009), was a study of belief-making in early modern Chinese natural history through the lens of the Bencao gangmu (1596), a compendium of materia medica. My work right now is focused on trying to understand identification, equivalence, sameness, and individuation as historical processes.
I’m doing this in one book project by excavating the peoples and practices of official translation bureaus in Ming and Qing China, and I’m especially interested in dictionaries and glossaries as literary texts. In another research project I’m looking more specifically at the translation of the natural world (and images and descriptions thereof) in the Qing, with a focus on Manchu texts. In a final very-long-term project, I’m honing in on practices of resemblance and translation in the context of medieval and early modern Chinese-Arabic-Persian exchange. For another perspective on how I’ve thought about my work at two particular moments in time (and for further evidence that I wouldn’t be able to talk if you tied my hands behind my back), check out this winter 2012 interview by Peter Shea of the “Bat of Minerva” program and a 2013 interview with UO Today.

I also host the New Books in East Asian Studies and New Books in Science, Technology, and Society podcast channels. You can read a brief description of the kind of thing I do in the context of those podcast interviews here. I recently started posting my interviews to this website shortly after (more or less…) they go live on NBN, but for a complete list of all existing interviews for NBEAS and NBSTS (including interviews by other people, and older ones pre-this-website) check out here and here.

For more about my work, check out my personal website at