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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

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SDSU history professor Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley in Zhengzhou, the capital of China's Henan province. (Credit: Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley) SDSU history professor Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley in Zhengzhou, the capital of China's Henan province. (Credit: Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley)

SDSU History Professor Wins Fulbright for Research in China

Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley will continue her work on cultural responses to calamity.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley can date her fascination with China back to the age of 14, when she became so engrossed in examining ancient Chinese characters that she briefly lost her way in the Ming tombs. Next year, she will take her own children, 7 and 10 years of age, to a transformed China, where Edgerton-Tarpley will conduct research for an upcoming book about the country’s history.

The San Diego State University history professor is researching both changes and continuities in Chinese responses to calamity—specifically famine—in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her work will be supported by the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program, which awards grants to university and college faculty and other professionals to conduct research and/or teach in more than 125 countries.

Responses to famine

Edgerton-Tarpley will be based at Shanghai Jiao Tong University during her Fulbright semester in China. There she will collaborate with Chinese historian Cao Shuji, who has published foundational research on the demographic impact of major disasters in late imperial and modern China. She will also give guest lectures on cultural history approaches to the study of disaster.

“Because the prospect of fellow humans starving to death is so disturbing, famines generate intense discussion of a given culture’s ultimate values and priorities,” Edgerton-Tarpley said. “Yet conceptions of what ethical responses to famine entail are not universal, and they change over time.”

NEH and University support

Edgerton-Tarpley studied Chinese history and culture at Wesleyan University and later at Indiana University, where she received a Ph.D. in history. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Beijing and Nanjing, and after graduating from Wesleyan, she taught English at the Wuhan Iron and Steel University.

Her first book, “Tears from Iron: Cultural Responses to Famine in Nineteenth-Century China,” was published in 2008, followed three years later by the publication of its Chinese translation.

At SDSU, Edgerton-Tarpley teaches courses in Asian and world history. Interested in comparative history, she has also researched Ireland’s “Great Famine” that killed one million and triggered the migration of a million more, mostly to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.

Her current book project focuses on changing state and societal responses to disasters in North China’s densely-populated Henan Province, one of China’s poorest, which lost over one million residents in each of China’s major nineteenth- and twentieth-century famines.

In preparation for her second book, she visited the Henan Provincial Archives and the Yellow River Conservancy Commission Archives in 2013 with support from a summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Thanks to generous support from SDSU’s University Grants Program, she returned to Henan in 2014, and also conducted research at three archival collections in Taiwan in 2015.