Summer Research

Professors do not get summers off, at least not typically. Even at a teaching-focused institution like Centre College, research forms an important part of our professional lives, and given the strong focus on teaching the summer often presents the best opportunity to get some research done.

As a direct result of that, I spent my summer this year… researching. This involved two major trips: one to Taipei, Taiwan and another to Germantown in Pennsylvania.

The Taiwan trip was energizing, if difficult. This was the longest I had left my young family and I found it hard. While there however, I had a huge mixture of emotions: missing my family, concern for my wife managing two small kids who don’t like being managed, waves of nostalgia from my time living in Taipei, excitement at using my Chinese language skills every minute of every day for the first time in years, joy at the sheer range of food options in Taipei (go to Taipei!), the excitement of using the amazing public transport, the food (go to Taipei!), visiting famous districts looking for gifts for my kids, the food…

Go to Taipei. Seriously.

Many hours a day were spent, however… researching. Researching, at least for me, looks a lot like the picture above. I take as many photographs as the archive permits, in order to compile a research database at home in the US. Reading Chinese is time consuming and I’m terrified of missing something. Still, you have to pick and choose, to prioritize. My current project focuses on Jiangxi Province in the south of China between the years 1920 and 1951. There are a lot of options when looking to gather historical materials from this period in Taipei.

In the late 1940s, as it became clear to Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist forces that they were losing the Chinese Civil War to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party, they staged a large retreat to the island of Taiwan. There, Chiang maintained until his death that the small island would be a launching point from which he would retake the Mainland. An awful lot has changed since then, but the Taiwanese government’s official status as the Republic of China and its history in Taiwan and on the Mainland means that there is fantastic depth of research material available on what we call the Republican Period: 1911-1949.

So, I went to the National Central Library in Taipei, Academia Historica, and Academia Sinica; and I collected, collected, collected.

After a few days back in Kentucky I flew to Germantown in Phildelphia. Same project, but a very different trip. The subjects of my research are American Catholic missionaries from the order of the Congregation of the Mission, commonly known as Vincentians. I spent my week in Germantown living among confreres of the order: eating with them, chatting with them, and during the day diving into their archival material from missionaries’ individual letters to magazines written for each other to commemorative albums discussing their attempts to convert the people of Jiangxi.

It is an exciting topic, and it is always a buzz to be researching after a busy teaching semester, but it is still research. I spent a lot of time looking at old folders and working through old letters. This may shock you, but I am a huge nerd, so it was hardly a terrible thing to have to do. It was still, however, very tough: if nothing else I might have gained a little more empathy for my students whom I ask to do the same thing, albeit on a much smaller scale.

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