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Project on Knowledge in China with Barbara Mittler

Apr 30, 2013

The processes of knowledge production and circulation in China are the topic of a new research project with Prof. Barbara Mittler. Coordinated by Prof. Joan Judge, it was granted a fund of CAD 250.000 by Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Further members include Prof. Cynthia Brokaw, Prof. Michel Hockx and Prof. Hu Siao-chen.

"Quotidian Concerns: Everyday Knowledge and the Rise of the Common Reader in China, 1860-1940" examines the processes of knowledge production and circulation that shaped modern China. The crucial eight decades it investigates encompassed China's protracted transition from Imperial to Republican rule, and from insular dynasty to global nation. They also witnessed an explosion of print arguably comparable in its social impact to the current Internet age. This project, an international collaborative effort that includes researchers in Europe, East Asia, and North America, is the first to devise methods for studying this burgeoning world of print that will allow to penetrate the level of everyday knowledge, access the habits of mind that underpinned these historic and global shifts, and relate the lessons of China's early information age to today.

The project examines the texts, institutions, and practices that created and disseminated everyday knowledge -rather than scholarly or political knowledge- in modern China. Two radically different genres of texts, which have not been studied in relation to one another to date but which were both prime vehicles for daily knowledge, are the centerpiece of the study. The first is encyclopedias for everyday life, which were revised and expanded editions of compendia published from the 16th century on. The second is the periodical press, a global form of print that first emerged in the Chinese context in the late 19th century. The study analyzes the history, organizing principles, and visual and discursive overlap between these materials, focusing on the three most prominent areas of quotidian concern in this era: life-cycle rituals, family medicine, and vocational skills. It further investigates the relative share of these two genres of texts in the print market, the sites where they were disseminated, and the reading and viewing practices through which readers processed the information they contained into practicable daily knowledge.

The project is coordinated by Prof. Joan Judge. Further project members include Prof. Cynthia Brokaw (Brown University), Prof. Michel Hockx (SOAS, London), Prof. Hu Siao-chen (Academia Sinica) and Prof. Barbara Mittler (Heidelberg University). The scholars already cooperated in the project "A New Approach to the Popular Press in China: Gender and Cultural Production, 1904-1937". It was part of Cluster's research project HRA8 "Chinese Women's Magazines" which is coordinated coordinated by Prof. Mittler.

Prof. Joan Judge (York University) is a cultural historian of modern China with a scholarly focus on print culture and women’s history at the turn of the twentieth century. Her research interests include Chinese Print Culture, Print Culture in Modern China and in Comparative Perspective, Chinese Women’s History and Reading Practices in China and in Comparative Perspective. In May 2013, she will give a guest lecture in the M.A. Transcultural Studies on invitation of the Interdisciplinary Research Group MC15 "Women's Magazines around the World".

Prof. Barbara Mittler is Co-Director of the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context". The sinologist researches on topics such as Chinese music, Taiwanese literary and cultural history, encyclopedias and comics, Chinese women’s magazines, visuality and historiography, satire and national heroes.


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