Tag Archives: Military History

Member of the Week: Hong Zhang

Hong PictureHong Zhang

Associate Professor of History

University of Central Florida

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My current research focuses largely on the history of Tianjin in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Located about 120 kilometers southeast of Beijing, Tianjin is one of the four centrally administered province-level municipalities in China and the second largest city in north China. The city rose to political and economic prominence mainly during the late nineteenth century. The Convention of Peking of 1860, which concluded the Second Opium War between China and Anglo-French powers, sealed the fate of Tianjin and turned it into a treaty port and opened it up to foreign consulates and entrepreneurs. Concomitant with the designation of Tianjin as a treaty port in 1860 was the launching of the national reform movement by the Qing government, which soon appointed prominent proponents of the movement as governor generals of Zhili (now Hebei) province headquartered in Tianjin, who turned the city into a political and economic stage in north China to implement the modernization projects. Tianjin thus became a center for extensive military and economic reforms in north China. The co-existence of foreign commercial and cultural activities and Chinese endeavors as well as the interaction between the two moved Tianjin out of the shadow of Beijing and turned it into a pole of modernity and into a city that was more modern in its facilities and infrastructures than Beijing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I am especially interested in the transformation of Tianjin as a result of the interaction, negotiation, and competition for influence and power between foreigners and Chinese.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I am teaching History of Chinese Civilization and Modern China this semester. My Modern China class relates well to my research. Standard history textbooks on modern Chinese history tend to focus heavily on wars and political upheavals, very often with only a brief allusion to the dynamic urban culture of the Republican era. However, political turmoil, warfare, and urban ills failed to represent the whole picture. A closer look at Tianjin of the Republican period reveals a cosmopolitan, multi-colored, and dynamic city. My teaching balances political events with cultural and social happenings and incorporates copious visual materials which constitutes a significant part of my research on Tianjin. For example, Beiyang Huabao, a pictorial published in Tianjin between 1926 and 1937, provides vivid images and rich materials on Tianjin in particular and on Republican urban China at large. Its colorful pages demonstrate the juxtaposition between things indigenous and things Western. My students  very much enjoy a look into Republican urban China through the visual lens.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

My article titled “Yuan Shikai and the Significance of His Troop Training at Xiaozhan, Tianjin, 1895-1899” was published in the Chinese Historical Review last month. I became interested in the topic while doing research on Tianjin. This article explores Yuan Shikai’s troop training at Xiaozhan and its impact upon Yuan’s military and political careers and activities. China’s humiliating defeat in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 shocked a number of high-ranking government officials into seeking ways to establish a truly modernized army in the Western fashion. Yuan Shikai, a much maligned political figure in modern Chinese history due especially to his ill-fated move to turn the Republic of China into a new imperial dynasty, was appointed commander in charge of troop training at Xiaozhan, Tianjin. Yuan’s military endeavors at Xiaozhan created a powerful army, earned him the loyalty of capable generals, and paved the way for his eventual rise to not only military but also political power. Recently, the Tianjin municipal government has rebuilt Yuan’s troop training site and named it the Xiaozhan Troop Training Park. The park has been open to the public since 2008. The local government has also made the site part of its “Viewing Tianjin Through the Lens of Modern China” Project. Like other recently rebuilt historical sites in Tianjin, the Xiaozhan Troop Training Park attempts to underscore the city’s political and military prominence in modern Chinese history.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

I believe I can learn a lot from young scholars in urban studies. Since urban history can be approached from many different angles/perspectives, it is important to keep an open mind, read extensively, and follow the latest theories and arguments in related fields.

In addition to your research, you have taken on two translation projects. How did that come about, and do you have any advice or wisdom for scholars who might be interested in translating scholarly work?

I translated two scholarly articles, “Mothers and Sons in Warring States and Han China, 453BCE – 220 CE” by Miranda Brown and “Shifting Identities: Courtesans and Literati in Song China” by Beverly Bossler, into Chinese, which were included in Women’s Studies: A Collection of Contemporary Western Studies on Chinese History published by Shanghai Guji Chubanshe in 2012. Because of my research interest in gender studies, the editor approached me with the translation project. The translation, however, entailed much more work than I expected. The two English articles examine mother-son relations of the Warring States and Han periods and courtesans of the Song Dynasty while my work on women in China focus more on the contemporary period. Consequently, the translation work also meant conducting a lot of research on the history of ancient Chinese women. It was fun and enlightening but also time-consuming. So, one probably ought to think twice before taking on a translation job, especially if it does not relate directly to one’s own research area.

Member of the Week: Willa Granger

2709E908-D200-47D5-AE2F-8EA6573020CDWilla Granger

PhD Candidate

The University of Texas at Austin, School of Architecture

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

I am currently working on a dissertation that examines the material history of the American “old age home” during the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Few architectural historians have studied the history of senior housing, and fewer still have examined congregate facilities for elder Americans (nursing homes, old age homes, assisted living facilities, etc.). What drew me to this subject was its contemporary relevance – as Baby Boomers start to enter retirement, the country will soon face its own senior housing crisis. I am curious how we reached this point, and how our ambiguous cultural, social, and regulatory attitude towards the elderly has manifested materially over time. More and more I realize the urban nature of the subject – not only the spatialization of these homes, but how they fit into the social “mosaic” of the American downtown.

Describe the ideal course you would create based on your research.

I’ve done a fair amount of writing about the incidental built environments of the US military. This includes studies of defense housing projects, and the most recent work I presented at UHA on the how the arrival of Korean-American “War Brides” and their extended families impacted the built environment around Fort Hood, Texas. I’ve conceptualized a class that uses an institutional history of the US military to understand larger built environment narratives. The military provides an architectural historian with a vehicle to study both “high and low” design, both local and transnational spaces, both rural and urban scales. It would be an exploratory “generator” to use with students towards understanding some of the fundamental considerations of the field.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I am excited (for my own dissertation work!) to read Carla Yanni’s forthcoming Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory. If you’ve read The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States, you know that Yanni is particularly adept at filtering social history through the lens of a specific typology – not dissimilar from what I hope to do with my dissertation. Dormitories – like insane asylums, like old age homes – fit into the landscape of the Victorian city, and I am eager to see what she has uncovered.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies? 

To simply look around! That’s one of the joys of this field (especially for built environment scholars examining cities) – our evidence is everywhere. Some of the best topics I’ve happened upon in my own work have come from simply moving through city-space. The material world (and even its absence) tells us things that other forms of evidence cannot.

You contributed a fascinating think piece about the film A Ghost Story to Interiors, a publication about “how architecture functions in film and media.” What was it like to write an architectural critique of a film? Would you do it again?

I am constantly thinking about the way the built environment is represented in film. In many movies the architecture is just a backdrop, a support – in conjuring a scene, oftentimes the whole goal of architecture is to not be idiosyncratic. I think this resonates with my interest in the everyday built environment, the vernacular. But the vernacular is so loaded with meaning; in its ordinariness it contains cues and clues about the actual lived experience of people. What I learned in writing the piece on A Ghost Story was the role that “vernacular looking” played on the film set. The director, the set designer, and many others shared a thoughtful attunement to the nuance of creating an “everyday,” home-like setting which played a critical role in the narrative.

Member of the Week: Ellen Hartman

Hartman_profileEllen Hartman

Research Landscape Architect, US Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory

Part-time PhD Student, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My current research at work covers a few areas, but it’s mostly focused on military aspects of cultural resources management and socio-cultural goespatial research, with some natural resources management aspects thrown in. When I started working I didn’t know what to expect, except that I was interested broadly in military landscapes (although, at the time I didn’t really know what that meant!). Academically, my research is more historical and theory-based and addresses the militarization of tangible and intangible spaces through nuclear armament.

Describe your current work for the Army Corps of Engineers. How does what you are working on relate to your scholarship?

My research for the Corps is very applied, which means I conduct historical research that informs the management guidelines I write that help the Department of Defense facilities maintain compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act, among other federal policies. The overlap between my work research and academic research is that I can view military landscapes from two different perspectives–operational and theoretical. 

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

It’s not that recent of a publication, but I just came across a book in the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series called “Warfare Ecology: A New Synthesis for Peace and Security” (2011). It explores the “complex, reciprocal relationships between warfare and the environment.” I haven’t read it in depth yet, but so far all the contributions seem really interesting. 

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

I don’t have much advice, except that history is awesome and cities are awesome so they might as well be put together.

A few years you became interested in geomancy and began incorporating influences of geomancy into your design work. What is geomancy, and what’s your favorite example of how you’ve used it for design?

Oh boy, the geomancy question. Way back when I was working on my masters in landscape architecture I had an ongoing conversation with my advisor, David Hays, about the assumption that design is predicated on improving future conditions. One of the questions was, how do you design for something that is unpredictable? David suggested I look into geomancy because it’s an ancient “science” that uses Earth’s energies to predict the future as well as locate sacred, or important, sites. But really, I use it as a method to filter, or recognize, my bias and to question the modern notion of technological arrogance and that we are always progressing upward toward betterment.

Geomancy is a fun exercise that helps generate narratives and then design responses. As mentioned above, I used it for my masters thesis, which got published as the chapter “Savior City” in (Non-) Essential Knowledge for (New) Architecture: 306090, Volume 15. I also used geomancy to question how sacred sites get formed in a journal article “Sacred States of America” in Forty-Five (forty-five.com). This project is a favorite because I wanted it to be a prompt for action, to have people go to specific places to do specific things with the hope that over time the prompt would be forgotten, but the actions would continue, thereby creating new sacred sites. To my knowledge, no one has enacted any part of that plan.