Skip over navigation

East Asia and the Modern World: Fresh Perspectives on Material Culture, Social Formation, and Intellectual History (1550–1800)

About the Project


In the fall of 2009 PIIRS and the Program in East Asian Studies (EAP) launched the planning phase of the research cluster “East Asia and the Early Modern World: Fresh Perspectives on Material Culture, Social Formations, and Intellectual History, 1550–1800.” Principal investigators and coordinators of the three-year research cluster are Benjamin Elman and Susan Naquin, professors of history and East Asian studies.

This research cluster investigates new areas on different margins of the present historiography and reexamines the frameworks for understanding East Asia between 1550 and 1800. Using new sources, making new connections, and reexamining old assumptions, the investigators ask whether and why China and Japan should be called “early modern” and explore whether European modernity is an appropriate standard at all for East Asia. Individually and collectively, the researchers seek to establish linkages between societies without making a priori assumptions about the countries’ internal structures or the genealogy of their connections.

As planned, the project explores:

  • Teachers, classicists, doctors, classical languages, and textbooks in early modern Japan, Korea, and China  (Benjamin Elman)
  • The role of artisans and artifacts in China before 1800 (Susan Naquin)

This PIIRS-EAP research cluster is also supported by the Comparative History of Philology in Early Modern Asia, a collaborative project between Oxford, Princeton, and Columbia that is funded through the Oxford-Princeton Research Partnership.

For more information contact Jayne Bialkowski, program manager.


Benjamin Elman

Benjamin Elman is a professor of history and East Asian Studies and chair of the Department of East Asian Studies. His courses focus on the social and cultural history of premodern China, the history of education in China; the history of science and medicine in China and Japan; research methods for classical historiography; and Sino-Japanese cultural interactions, 1600–1800. He has published widely on the intellectual history of China and has coauthored the world history textbook, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart. Publications relevant to this PIIRS project include: From Philosophy to Philology: Social and Intellectual Aspects of Change in Late Imperial China (2001); A Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late Imperial China (2000); and On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1550–1900 (2005). Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania.


Susan Naquin is a professor of history and East Asian studies. Her research interests include the social and cultural history of early modern China (1600–1900) and popular religion and material culture of China. She is the author numerous publications including Millenarian Rebellion in China: The Eight Trigrams Uprising of 1813 (1976), Shantung Rebellion: The Wang Lun Uprising of 1774 (1981), and Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400–1900 (2000). Ph.D. Yale University.





Events Archive