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Why I became a historian

I wrote a senior thesis as an undergraduate. It was the first time that I traveled to an archive, an experience that I found both deeply thrilling and intimidating. The moment when I held crumbling old documents in my hand, I knew that I found my calling.


I have a wide range of interests from the history of Earth and physical sciences, agriculture and botany, to network science. But mostly I just love to read and find inspiration sometimes in unlikely places - a throwaway line in a book that raises more questions; an intriguing personal story; a fascinating old photograph. I love being a historian because I like to chase down these leads and telling stories that draw upon unlikely connections.

Select Publications


Birth of the Geopolitical Age: Global Frontiers and the Making of Modern China (Stanford University Press, 2023).


Empires of Coal: Fueling China’s Entry into the Modern World Order, 1860-1919 (Weatherhead East Asian Institute Publication series, Stanford University Press, 2015).


“Focus: Using Chinese Gazetteers for History of Science,” ISIS, Vol. 113, No. 4, December 2022, “Introduction: Redrawing the Map of Science in Modern China,” and “Using LoGart to Uncover a New Spatiality of Science in China,” 797-804 and 805-815.


“Ding Shan and the Resilience of Chinese Historical Geography,” 思想史 (Intellectual History)Vol. 10 (2021), 391-431.


“On Science and Civilisation in China,”


“Saving China through Science,” Nature, part of essay series for the 150th anniversary celebration of Nature’s founding, October 1, 2019. (


With Fa-ti Fan, “Modern Science in China” Chapter in Cambridge History of Science, Vol. 8, Modern Science in National, Transnational, and Global Context (Cambridge University Press, 2020), 521-554.


“The Search for Coal in the Age of Empires: Ferdinand von Richthofen’s Odyssey in China, 1860-1920,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 119, No. 2 (April 2014), 339-362.



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