Category Archives: History

Globalization, Slavery and Pearls in the Age of Imperialism

By Jasmine Marshall Armstrong

Although diamonds may be the gemstone commodity people currently associate with human rights conflicts, in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, it was the luminous, natural pearl found in the Arabian Gulf that was widely desired, yet also connected to a persisting slave trade.

Matthew Hopper, an Associate Professor of History at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo explored this world during his recent seminar talk at the Center for the Humanities, entitled “Pearls, Slavery, and Fashion: Enslaved African Pearl Divers in the Persian Gulf in the Age of Empire.” Hopper’s book, Slaves of One Master: Globalization and Slavery in Arabia in the Age of Empire, was published by Yale University Press in 2015.

During the pearling season of 1873, an enslaved pearl diver swam over and climbed aboard a British cruiser. What followed was a conflict between the British abolition movement, and the burgeoning craze for pearls brought about by increased wealth from industrialization in both the United Kingdom and the United States.

Describing the conflict as a “diplomatic hailstorm,” Hopper noted that the case became a cause célèbre that had lasting ramifications when enslaved pearl divers or pearling ship crew members attempted to seek asylum with the British. Fearing the diplomatic impact that granting asylum would have upon the pearl trade, the British decided against a policy of helping enslaved pearl divers.

Hopper noted that while the British were proud of their work in the abolition movement from the late 18th century on, and the United States had abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, both nations had a voracious appetite for Gulf Pearls, fed by a burgeoning print culture.

In the popular press, Queen Victoria, and French Empress Eugénie de Montijo were both depicted favoring pearls. The newly wealthy from trade and industrialization sought to emulate the nobility by purchasing and wearing pearls.

The practice of enslavement of people from East Africa for use in the Gulf pearling trade persisted into the 20th Century. Some of the enslaved came from Mozambique and Tanzania. Ships often featured crews that were mixed between those owning the boat, paid employees, and their slaves. Arabian ship owners worked in a network of global trade with merchants from India, who then funneled many of the valuable pearls into American and European markets.

In America, although a small industry of freshwater pearls from rivers existed, the newly wealthy Americans sought Gulf pearls. The American craze for pearls in fashion kicked into high gear in the second half of the 19th Century to the early 20th Century. The November 6 1895, wedding of Consuelo Vanderbilt to Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough at St. Thomas’ Church in Manhattan was a turning point in the craze for pearls. The New York Times coverage of the wedding, engineered despite the bride’s objections by her socially ambitious mother, Alva Smith Vanderbilt, was called “the most elaborate ever in this country.” Press coverage noted that Consuelo Vanderbilt’s dress would be sewn with real pearls. After she became the Duchess of Marlborough, Consuelo Vanderbilt was frequently photographed wearing pearl chokers, and long pearl opera-length ropes. Hopper said the years 1910-1914 were the peak years of value for Gulf pears, representing the last years of the Gilded Age prior to the start of World War I.

It was an enterprising Japanese businessman, Mikimoto, whose development of the cultured pearl ultimately brought about an end to the demand for Gulf Pearls harvested by enslaved divers. In 1893, he created the first cultured pearl, and thus changed forever the value and consumption of pearls. Freed of the need to harvest oysters in the Gulf in hopes of finding priceless natural pearls, the public began to buy cultured Japanese pearls. “Mikimoto thought every woman should be able to afford a pearl necklace,” Hopper said.

Sadly, the collapse of Gulf pearling created other problems. The freed former pearling slaves now faced hunger and poverty, as they were left to their own devices in the years following World War I. In the 1920s, former enslaved pearl divers often approached British colonial experts saying that they thought they were still the property of those who had owned the Gulf pearling ships, and that such people were obligated to feed them.

Center for Humanities fellows noted after the talk issues of enslavement persist today, whether it be in sex trafficking, or the shrimp industry, which has been exposed for the enslavement of workers. Those in attendance discussed using research and apps to understand ethical concerns related to products.

Native Hawaiian Music and Cultural Capital in 19th Century Whaling

By Jasmine Marshall Armstrong

When men went to sea in the nineteenth century whaling industry, they entered a working environment which was not only dangerous, demanding, and dirty, but also a space of cosmopolitan exchange with other sailors, according to Dr. James Revell Carr, an ethnomusicologist from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Carr recently presented “‘Selamoku Hula’: Native Hawaiian Music and Dance at Sea in the 19th Century” as part of the Merced Seminar in the Humanities. As part of his presentation, Carr taught those in attendance a chantey entitled “John Kanaka,” whose title refers to Native Pacific Islanders working on American whaling ships. “Kanaka” is a Hawaiian term for “human being.” Research into the origins of “John Kanaka,” which was used by sailors when hauling up the sails, led Carr to speculate that the song’s Hawaiian lyrics which included the term “stand your ground,” were in part instructions to keep one’s feet firmly on the decking in order to maintain safety standards.

Today, “John Kanaka” is learned by numerous school children, and is sung by park rangers and volunteers from the San Francisco Martime National Historical Park, where Carr previously worked as an interpretive specialist. The original meaning and context of the song did not begin to become apparent to Carr until an elderly woman approached him after a performance and introduced herself as a Native Hawaiian. In his book, “Hawaiian Music in Motion: Mariners, Missionaries and Minstrels,” Carr writes that the woman told him her father was a stevedore in Honolulu, who sang songs combining Hawaiian words with English sailors’ expressions such as “by gum” and “ahoy.” This piqued Carr’s interest, and was the impetus for the research project which lead to his book.

Beyond a means of inclusion within the whaling work space, Native Hawaiian music became an important part of cultural circulation and exchange on the seas. Carr said that whaling ships would often meet up in the waling grounds, during which sailors would trade scrimshaw, books, and music. One mariner’s diary he read an excerpt from noted that during an occasion in which his ship met up with several others, mariners sang songs representing their nationalities and  ethnicities, including Hawaiians. Another sailor, from New England, used his personal copy book to record in Hawaiian a song he learned from Native Hawaiian whalers. The sailors noted that they looked forward to impressing others with their knowledge of a Hawaiian song, reflecting the concept of cultural capital.

While Native Hawaiians were looked down upon by missionaries and those in the sugar plantation trade, in whaling, the working class masculine culture was based around mutual respect for hard work among sailors. “It mattered less if you were American or Hawaiian or English,” Carr said. “What mattered was if you worked hard, and had skills in seamanship, and bravery when facing the whale.” American missionaries attempted to keep Native Hawaiians working on the sugar plantations in Hawaii, but journals and letters Carr has found indicate that most preferred working at sea, where they were treated with more respect, and their culture was appreciated.

Although the cosmopolitan age of the whaling ships ended in the latter half of the nineteenth century, elements of native Hawaiian songs sung at sea continue to appear, whether reinterpreted as music for children or as a popular wedding song. Few Americans today are aware that Hawaiian music has a long history of popularity and inclusion in the repertoire of American popular music, Carr noted. Yet it was Hawaiians who “gave the world a unique combination of sliding steel guitar, driving ukulele, falsetto yodels, and loping, syncopated rhythms that have influenced America since the 1890s at least,” he wrote.

Water Architecture: When Aesthetics Mirrors Social Values

By Jasmine Marshall Armstrong

When most people look at a pumping station or dam along California’s intricate water supply systems, they may think of technology, drought and the Golden State’s insatiable thirst.

Rina Faletti, a Postdoctoral Scholar for the UC Merced Center for Humanities and an art historian who studies the history of urban water systems, sees much more.

Trained in landscape theory and cultural geography at the University of Texas, Austin, where she received her doctorate, when Faletti looks at the 1910 neoclassical Sunol Water Temple in southern Alameda County, she sees an embodiment of the values of the culture which designed and built these water supply features into the temple’s architectural details.

“When someone looks at or imagines a ‘landscape’—whether it is a landscape painting or a garden, ‘wilderness’ or ‘nature’—that viewer perceives ideas and feels emotions that are a reflection of that culture’s ideas about what is beautiful and valuable,” Faletti explained. “My contention is these buildings were just as important as banks or churches, in their time, in conveying values.”

Using the example of the Sunol Water Temple, designed by Willis Polk in 1910 and built by the Spring Valley Water Company, which provided water service for San Francisco from 1860 – 1930, Faletti noted that neoclassical designs for waterworks structures shape the way we think about water.

“Viewers might admire the temple form of the buildings, and in turn admire the patrons of the buildings; in a sense this is a way in which art has been used to ground the public support of industrial capitalism, as a basis for American urban development. From another point of view, just as valid, the associations with ancient Greece and Rome confirm political foundations of a representative republic. Third, the neoclassical aesthetic permits an association with the Romans, whom American culture traditionally laud as being the most forward-thinking engineers in history. These are just three possible ways to interpret the aesthetic form of a neoclassical waterworks structure on a city water supply system,” she explained.

In her studies of water architecture in the American West, Faletti confronts the mythos of the landscape as something to be conquered and dominated, a philosophy writ large by historian Fredrick Jackson Turner during his 1893 talk on the significance of frontier during the Chicago World’s Fair.

“Turner interpreted the West in Romantic terms. The idea viewed settlers and explorers as independent heroes who represented Americans as a whole, who conquered a hostile land by continuously and ceaselessly moving across it,” Faletti noted. The American West was postulated as a ‘savage’ landscape in need of ‘civilization,’ and this point of view ignored the cultures of Native Americans, which already existed, and other perspectives besides those of male explorers and historians, Faletti said.

The “civilizing” values suggested by Greco-Roman water temples of the 19th and early 20th centuries also gave way to a romantic look backward at California’s own past in the Mission architecture of some water conveyance structures. Just east of Merced, beside Highway 140, sits a Pacific Gas and Electric substation built during this period which Faletti said provides a great example of Mission Revival in historic water architecture.

As the 20th Century moved into the Art Deco period, dams built as water reclamation projects often featured ornamental details and motifs. One such dam was the Hollywood Reservoir’s 1924 Mulholland Dam, named for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power engineer William Mullholland.

“It could be seen from everywhere in Hollywood,” Faletti said.

Today, the beauty of the dam is no longer visible, for a surprising reason: The failure of another Mulholland dam. In 1928, the St. Francis Dam, spanning the San Francisquito Canyon 40 miles north of Los Angeles, collapsed, resulting in a catastrophic flood which killed as many as 600 people.

Following the St. Francis Dam failure, the Department of Water and Power covered the Mullholland Dam with millions of acre feet of dirt backfill, according to Faletti. This took place during the height of the Great Depression, a time when Californians’ confidence in the state had been undermined.

“The politics of buttressing a dam that did not need bolstering were about the public perception of safety, not actual structural soundness,” Faletti said. Echoing her contention that a time period’s and a community’s values are reflected in its water architecture, Faletti noted that one engineer at the time denigrated aesthetic design elements of dams, which he saw as “feminine.”

Faletti said her scholarship has been enhanced by her time as a Postdoctoral Fellow for the Center for the Humanities at UC Merced, and noted how much she enjoys refining her water architecture scholarship.

“Water and power are beautiful problems to have, and both as human and as technological problems, they are not going away anytime soon. My job is to observe, record, and comment on the process, and it’s a privilege to provide that service to humanity,” she said.

Following the Tracks of Yu

by Danielle Bermudez

Water can often be seen as a source of life, but it can also lead to loss. In this seminar, Ruth Mostern, Associate Professor of History at UC Merced, explores how water may have led to immense change of landscape and life in eleventh century China. While research is still being conducted, Mostern provides fascinating insights about the soil of the Yellow River and how this impacted the defensive strategies of the Song dynasty. These dynamics may have altered the environmental history of the region, based on the timing and scale of loess plateau fortification, leading to numerous disaster floods during the eleventh century.

The Yellow River, or Huang He, is the third-longest river in Asia, and is the sixth-longest river in the world, with an estimated length of 5,464 km. It flows through nine provinces, and empties in Shandong province. During the eleventh century, military strategy was important, and ambitious fortification with garrisons, as well as the presence of more than half a million soldiers, had an immense impact on an ecologically fragile region.

According to Mostern, the natural landscape of the Yellow River is prone to soil erosion without vegetation cover. Fortifications in Northern Song were strategically built near the edges of the Yellow River. The exposed erosion-prone sand and soil made its way into the Yellow River, and ultimately drove disastrous flooding downstream. This resulted in one of the most rapidly rising sedimentation rates in history.

Flowing with our ongoing theme of “water,” seminar participants agreed that the environment is not a fixed place, it has agency, is dynamic, and ever-changing, but what is the scale of that change? As the seminar came to a close, participants lingered on the following central question: how do humans shape the natural environment, and conversely, and how does the environment continuously shape us?

al-Karaji’s Hidden Waters

by Danielle Bermudez

Al-Karaji’s treatise has inspired stories worldwide about famous “hidden waters”. The 1,000 year old ancient text has stirred a 2009 children’s book called Water Scientists, as well as a 1950s Persian story called Blind White Fish. The 1950s story even prompted a group of western academics to conduct an excursion in search of the rare fish species mentioned in al-Karaji’s treatise.

While there is an Orientalist fetishization of al-Karaji’s treatise, Abigail Owen, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in World History of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, contends that al-Karaji’s work should be celebrated as one of the oldest texts of its kind in the field of hydrology. Al-Karaji was a mathematician and engineer from the late 10th century-early 11th century. Of Persian origin, he spent an important part of his scientific life in Baghdad where he composed ground breaking mathematical books. In fact, most scholars regard him for the beginnings of freeing algebra from geometry.

One of his most recognized works is his technical treatise on the extraction of hidden waters, which contains complex and profound understandings of different kinds of natural water systems, proper care of tunnel construction and maintenance, methods of water level measurement, the description of instruments for surveying, the construction of conduits, their lining, protection against decay, their cleaning and maintenance, as well as a structure of ethics based on specific social and cultural notions of law, property, and ownership.

Owen and her research team attempt to translate al-Karaji’s 1,000 year old treatise into English, a challenging process of carefully decoding words, images, and meanings. Al-Karaji’s ancient treatise has been translated before, such as from Arabic to Persian, and from Arabic to French. Oftentimes, however, translations of the treatise have obscured particular meanings of fresh ground water, such as with the origins and use of the word “qanat.”

Owen’s research on al-Karaji’s treatise demonstrates how meanings of water are fluid and dynamic across space and time. She makes evident how al-Karaji’s treatise serves as an important form of representation of knowledge about the environment, through a complex understanding of water systems, encouraging us to take up ongoing questions regarding the urgent need and use of water in our society – past, present, and future.

The World Turned Upside Down: Changes in Representations of the World in Medieval Eurasian Maps: Seminar with Hyunhee Park

by Chancellor Dorothy Leland

My role is to say something that helps open up conversations, and I need to confess two handicaps from the beginning.

First, I am not a historian and hence do not have the expertise to critically assess the analyses and arguments that Professor Park presented us with today.

My second handicap is that I am map impaired.

By map impaired, I mean that I often struggle to successfully use the conventions for understanding the maps that I encounter in my daily life. I most frequently experience this handicap with navigational road maps, which appear to me as a dizzying array of highways, streets, and intersections that fail to correspond to the world as I inhabit it. I am a country girl who learned to find my way using a set of physical landmarks—the old oak tree in front of the yellow house, Mr. Miller’s orchard, the dirt path that meandered between fenced pastures to the spot, sheltered by a stand of eucalyptus trees, where I boarded the school bus. To this day, I rarely pay attention to street names and instead look for navigational beacons in the landscape that surrounds me—churches, billboards, dwellings, tree clusters, and others icons that over time orient me in my environment.

Of course, I could draw navigational maps that more closely correspond to my own sense of place, and indeed I sometimes do so to supplement standard street directions for people who want to visit me. And as a child I liked to create maps that took me to fictional treasures or navigated me through imaginary worlds.

The point is that maps are human representations, symbolic depictions of place and relationships within place. Depending on the map, their features are informed by individual psychology, geographical knowledge, religion, politics, and many other factors. As such, maps provide fertile soil for insight from multiple disciplinary perspectives into the human symbolic imagination and the influences that shape it across cultures and historical periods.

The so-called upside down world maps provide a compelling locus of inquiry regarding map-making conventions and history.  These maps place the labeling on a map so that south is up, north is down, east is left, and west is right. As a consequence the Southern Hemisphere appears at the top of the map rather than at the bottom in contrast with mapping conventions that prevail in our own time and culture.   Indeed, it is only from within our own representational convention of orienting North to the top that maps with the South up appear upside-down.

As Professor Park noted in her presentation, the decision to orient maps according to a single prime direction varies across cultures, and there is no purely geographical reason why one direction supersedes others. In looking at the geographical understanding and techniques for mapping the world across different cultures and time, she finds the geographers “all drew observations from the Eastern rising and western setting sun to orient their maps along an east-west axis and north-south axis that followed the position of the North Star or the mid-day sun. Yet geographers of different societies presented this orientation in different ways according to the symbolic and sacred values held by their traditions.”

Although Professor Park reviews several hypotheses that may explain why, for example, the Islamic world adopted a south-up mapping convention, the focus of her study is not on this particular question but rather to trace the transfer of certain mapping practices and views from one society to another and to show how this influenced people’s geographic understanding.  I found her discussion of the influence of Islamic world maps in both China and Europe fascinating and a compelling example of how our understanding and symbolic representation of place, whether it be the world or something much smaller, can shift over time through contact and the selective blending of traditions.

Consider the case of China. Apparently, the earliest extant maps placed north on the top, consistent with Greco-Roman mapping and in contrast to Islamic world mapping. As Professor Park suggests, this may have been to indicate the primacy of a sacred direction based on a traditional Chinese idea that envisions the emperor as sitting in the north looking southward as if down on his subjects. This might also have been because the Chinese placed value on the North Star as a fixed star indicating the geographic pole used for voyages. These maps apparently also focused on drawing Chinese territory to the neglect of the larger world, and consistent with Chinese cosmology, which viewed the earth’s shape as a quadrangle under a spherical sky, maps were drawn within a rectangular frame. The impetus for change, according to Professor Park, was the political need for maps with a broader Eurasian perspective when China emerged as the center of the Mongol empire. Islamic maps and astronomical instruments became available as scholars migrated from Central Asia and Iran to China in the early thirteenth century, and this, combined with a strong political motivation, led to a new Chinese world map incorporating important Islamic influences.

But while there is a clear story to tell about the Islamic influence, Chinese map-making during this period apparently did not incorporate some important elements of the Islamic tradition—including, perhaps, the Islamic concept of the geographical round globe and the south on top orientation of Islamic maps. And the influence of these and other aspects of the Islamic tradition were not strong enough to stick over time and through changing political circumstances. When the Mongol empire failed and was replaced by the native dynasty, Chinese map-making for the most part continued in the earlier mapping tradition.

I have summarized this portion of Professor Park’s presentation because it holds broader questions that interest me—and perhaps you as well. Professor Park opened her presentation by noting that, “historians can often detect important political or cultural shifts caused by a change in perspective that allowed people to see things in a new way.” And although astute historians, armed with appropriate historical documents, can trace these shifts, it may be more difficult to understand the factors that determine or predict when a change of perspective is more likely than not to become firmly embedded as part of the dominant representational framework of a culture or society. In the case of China after the Mongol empire failed, what were the pulls back to the older, more traditional map-making conventions?

I suspect that the explanation does not belong to the province of history alone but rather requires, in addition, political, anthropological, sociological, and psychological modes of inquiry and explanation. Deep cultural change is notoriously slow and unstable in the absence of pervasive and practical, political, or religious influences to motivate the change.

My interest in this question is related to the ways that the study of the past from multiple disciplinary perspectives can inform our understanding of the present and possible future. I wonder, for example, what might be capable of dislodging the reification in the modern western world of the north-on-top map orientation. The question is speculative but also relates more broadly to questions about how traditions of representation get lost, how they might be recovered as part of our active framework for understanding the world, and how deep, lasting changes in the dominant representational frameworks of a culture or society manage to occur.

We know that any given map-making tradition represents only one of many possible ways of depicting place or world. With respect to world-maps, no curved surface like that of the Earth can be projected in two dimensions without some distortion, and different methods of projection are better for conveying elements such as shape or size, compass direction, etc. than others.   The political firestorm that emerged several decades ago over the methods of projection created in 1569 by Mercator, a Flemish mathematician and cartographer, rested on complaints that the distortion of territory that resulted from his method of projection (still widely used at the time) reinforced Eurocentric bias and western imperialism. Even earlier, several surrealists used representational hyperbole to expose the Mercator projection’s supposed Eurocentric bias by shrinking Europe and eliminating some of its countries. Of course, the Mercator map projection was created for navigational purposes by representing lines of constant compass bearing and not as a representation of the relative size or importance of world states, territories, and regions.   But it became over time, due to its widespread use for non-navigational purposes, the standard map projection for many westerners. Its distortion of large sections of the world might indeed have reinforced notions of Western superiority.

Contemporary upside down map enthusiasts point, similarly, to the way in which simply turning the North-up map upside down can jar us out of our complacent sense of place in a world that we have come to see through map-making conventions that dominate the modern western world. It has thus entered classrooms as an educational tool.

I cite these examples as an illustration of the fact that maps, like other forms of human representation, are rich with historical, cultural, anthropological, religious, political, and practical significance. Professor Park has helped us to see the chain of influence between several different cultures during a specific time period that resulted in significant changes in local geographic understanding and world map conventions.

Persianate Universal Histories Turned Upside Down

by Kit Myers

With “Breaking Historiographical Boundaries: Early Modern Persianate Universal Chronicles,” Sholeh Quinn turns upside down the traditional way of examining universal histories of the Ottoman and Safavid empires. Most scholars have inspected these historiographies separately because this is still an emergent area of study. In particular, scholars have often been concerned with the last section of chronicles covering the newly established empire. Quinn’s presentation and broader research, however, turn way from atomized analysis of dynasties within this distinct genre toward an approach that investigates the entire chronicles in a comparative fashion.

Quinn’s paper illustrates the fruitful insight gained from—and broader importance of—comparative work. Such an approach makes us consider what part of the picture have we missed, and in what ways do our assumptions get turned upside down by using such an approach? Quinn’s preliminary research considers both the structure and content of four Persianate universal chronicles under the Ottoman and Safavid empires: 1) Mawlana Shukrullah’s (1459) Bihjat al-tavarikh, 2) Ghiyas al-Din Muhammad Khvandamir’s (1524) Habib al-siyar, 3) Yahya ibn ‘Abd al-Latif Husayni Qazvini’s (1542) Lubb al-tavarikh, and 4) Muhammad Muslih al-Din Lari Ansari’s (1566) Mirat al-advar.

Her analysis of universal history reveals that the four chronicles share numerous sectional and elemental components. Historians included portrayals of creation, biblical prophets, pre-Islamic Persian kings, the life of Muhammad and his immediate successors, subsequent dynasties, and lastly, the current dynasty. In looking at these universal histories, Quinn found that they were even less Ottoman- or Safavid-centric than anticipated. Thus, Quinn argues that they should indeed be considered universal histories rather than dynastic. Despite what one might expect, the authors of these universal histories did not explicitly disparage pre-Islamic figures and rulers. Instead, they narrated a shared or “universal” past, placing Islamic history within a larger historical context. Similarly, the authors were not simply Ottoman and Safavid historians because they in fact had varying roles for multiple dynasties, and thus, they were more accurately Persianate historians.

Indeed, the narratives are not entirely independent historiographical accounts but rather closely related and sometimes overlapping variations, revealing low and porous historiographical boundaries. Yet, Quinn’s close reading of the universal histories—such as the way in which Kayumars, who is said to be the first Persian king and first human, was included in the four texts—also illustrates that historians were not merely copying the first chapters of prior universal histories. Historians worked from previous sources but also inserted their own perspectives, making minor to significant revisions of prior accounts. Without a comparative analysis, scholars could easily miss the ways in which historians recorded universal chronicles that possessed shared and divergent pasts. What becomes clear is that studying universal chronicles not only requires understanding the historical context but also historiographical context.




89@25: Views of the Chinese Pro-Democracy Movement as Experience, Event, Myth, Materials and Memory

by Robin DeLugan

Ed Lanfranco, a graduate student in the World Cultures Graduate Group and a 2013-2014 Center for the Humanities Graduate Fellow, shared his intellectual journey to design and frame a particular research project concerning the pro-Democracy movement in China—centered on the events surrounding the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square, Beijing protest—which next year will reach a 25-year anniversary. Ed has a unique connection to this particular history because between 1988-2009 he lived in China. While still a relative newcomer, he directly experienced the June 4, 1989 events—one of the most visible contemporary uprisings of citizens against the Chinese government. The government of China sent tanks and troops to restore order. The brutal dispersion resulted in death and injury. The world at large learned about efforts to squash China’s pro-democracy movement; meanwhile the Chinese government enforced a national ban on information about the event and its aftermath.  Ed, acting much as an ethnographer in the field, collected flyers, posters and other ephemera surrounding “June 4.”  Ed is researching official efforts within the People’s Republic of China to efface the 1989 Pro-Democracy Movement.  While desiring to write the history of 1989, the topic of the past in the present is central to his project.  When Ed inquires, “…are the Chinese aspirations in 1989 Beijing dead and gone, best forgotten there and by outsiders?”, he draws attention to the 25 years that have since transpired. The dynamics on the ground in China and elsewhere invite an examination of official silences; memories and counter-memories; and the forgetting that can surrounding the politics of the past.

Ed is responding to the milestone of the 25th anniversary of the events at Tiananmen Square through a series of activities that will bring scholarly and public attention to China’s past.  In addition to writing the history of 1989, Ed plans to develop the following: a UC Merced Kolligian Library exhibition “89@25”, a book for popular audiences, and a digital archive of the memorabilia he collected while in China. He also plans to travel in California and engage the pubic about the anniversary.

As a scholar who studies the role of academicians in memory work, in particular in memory work that challenges official silence about state violence and as someone who sees herself as one protagonist among others in the historical struggle for inclusion, human rights, and social justice, I pose to Ed the following questions:

a) To what extent do academics figure in your research?

b) What role do you see for yourself as a memory catalyst?

c) Beyond academicians, have you identified other collaborators or interlocutors inside or outside of China that are committed to commemorating the 25th anniversary? 

d) Are there networked domestic or international efforts taking place?  

e) Lastly, have you identified other collections or archives pertaining to 1989 that can be compared or contrasted with your own personal archives?

Ed’s research interests complement my own and I will look forward to learning more about this important and unique project as it continues to develop.  Important to the research will be what next year’s 25th anniversary commemorations reveal about memory and nation; about states and citizens; about memory and democracy; about China’s post-democracy aspirations; and about the global interest in this important anniversary.