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Nolan B

- Research Program Mentor

PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate


Central Asian history, Southeast Asian history, South Asian history, African history, global history, history of religion in East Asia, medieval interregional history, maritime history

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

The Social Construction of Coal in Late Medieval Asia

The Ottoman subject Ali Akbar al-Khitayi, in 1516, submitted a travelogue of China to the court of Sultan Selim I, in which he wrote of coal in the followings ways: "In China they use a black stone in place of firewood [...] near Beijing there is a black mountain and they use the stone from it to heat their homes." (The translation is original.) What does it mean that Ali Akbar, as a well-traveled well-educated individual, did not know what coal was? And what does it mean that, by comparison, people in (north) China were quite familiar with coal? Exactly how widespread was rudimentary coal technology in the Asian continent of the early 16th century? Kenneth Pomeranz' highly influential The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (pub. 2000) makes the case that access to coal resources differentiated early modern England from the cultural and economic center of China in its southeastern region in the same period. This access, he claims, led directly to England and then Europe's economic domination of the globe. What access to coal did Ottoman subjects have in this same period? This paper utilizes wide-ranging primary sources in three languages to provide answers to all of these related questions.

The Mao Family as Ming-Dynastic Foreign Relations Specialists

The late Ming period Manual of Military Preparedness serves as one of our best sources today for information on late Ming and early Qing Chinese views of foreign lands and the maritime world. It was compiled by Mao Yuanyi, who served the late Ming as a specialist in these matters. Mao's cousin Ruizheng had a different but related specialty; he was a senior administrator in the college of translators and interpreters. He left us most of our records of how these official specialists were trained and their talents assessed. The Mao cousins' ancestor Mao Kun also worked in the field of foreign relations. In the Mongol Yuan dynasty Mao Kun worked on a map of the oceans surrounding China & Southeast Asia, conferring on this now-lost map the nickname 'Mao Kun Map.' The Mao Kun Map was reproduced in 15th century Korea, and also guided the Treasure Fleet of Zheng He, who in turn mapped their own travels, and the map that they produced appears in Mao Kun's descendant Mao Yuanyi's Manual of Military Preparedness. This article investigates the Mao lineage and the reasons for their longstanding specialty in foreign relations. How did this specialty develop in the first place? Did it continue after the late Ming cousins? Was it typical, in this period, for powerful families to pursue an epistemological or technical specialty in this manner?

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