What is your field of history?
I am a historian of contemporary China’s relations with its Asian neighbors. My current book project takes a borderlands approach to the history of Cold War in Asia. It examines how the global conflict shaped the extension of state power to the historically marginal societies at the Sino-Vietnamese border.
Why are you interested in this subject?
Initially trained as a diplomatic historian who studies the foreign policy of China during the Cold War, archival research in China and Vietnam nevertheless took me to the remote border provinces, where the two countries interact with each other on a daily basis yet the authority of state has been challenged by complex cross-border social fabric and even geography. Such experience has encouraged me to write a history of the Sino-Vietnamese relations from the perspective of the borderlands rather than the traditional, political leaders focused narrative.
The history of Asian borderlands during the Cold War is connected to some broader themes of international history, such as the legacies of empires, wars and state-building, and the changing permeability of international borders.
Why is it important to take an international perspective in studying history?
International boundaries are often arbitrarily determined, sometimes by political elites who have never been there. Food, disease, or culture knows no boundaries. Simply studying the “national history” of a given country inevitably omits some essential parts of human experience. The past century witnessed accelerated globalization as well as determined resistance of it. To understand how the societies we live came to be, international history is inescapable as a subject of study.
As national story is often meant to emphasize distinctive national experience and inspire national loyalty, studying international history cultivates globally competent citizens who understand and welcome complexity and are able to provide innovative solutions to complex problems.
What should a prospective student in International History at the LSE be reading?
A well-trained student of international history masters the skill of assessing sources and conflicting interpretations. To start picking up this skill, a prospective student might want to read and compare various media outlets’ coverage of the same international event.
To get your feet wet on the historian’s craft of using multilateral archival sources, visit the Wilson Center Digital Archives, which collects and translates once-classified government documents from all sides of the Cold War.
There is no one right way to do international history. Scholars have been creative in their historical inquiry into the exercise of political, economic, military, or cultural power. Timothy Brook, in Vermeer’s Hat (2008), explores the roots of the world trade system that brought together Europe, Asia, and the Americas through six paintings by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Mark Mazower’s Salonica, City of Ghosts (2007) examines how the complexity of a cosmopolitan city in modern day northern Greece got shaved away by the rise of nationalism in the twentieth century.
The causes and consequences of war and conflict remain the core concern of many international historians. Choose a war that you think is important or still affects today and read a few books on it.
In the end, you are encouraged to read anything that sparks your curiosity.
How can prospective students get in touch with you?
Please email me and I will be happy to discuss our academic programs and answer your questions. If I do not know the answer, I will try my best to find someone who does.
Please note that as the departmental undergraduate admission advisor, I do not make admission decisions; nor can I comment on the specifics of the application materials. If you have questions on the School’s admissions criteria, please contact Undergraduate Admissions.