I am a historian of modern East Asia, Sino-US encounters, and global visual culture, and completed my PhD in the Department of History at the University of Michigan. I am currently Associate Professor of History at Albion College. I am also a Center Associate at the University of Michigan’s Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, Series Editor for Studies in Christianity in China at Lehigh University Press, and Director Emeritus of the China Christianity Studies Group, a scholarly society affiliated with the Association for Asian Studies.
My new book, Developing Mission: Photography, Filmmaking, and American Missionaries in Modern China was published by Cornell University Press in 2021. Developing Mission is a transnational cultural history that reconstructs the lives and afterlives of images, cameras, and visual imaginations across the American missionary enterprise in China. It illuminates the centrality of visual practices in modern missionary experiences and representations, even as changing Sino-US relations radically transformed the lives of those behind and in front of the lens.
I am deeply interested in the roles of vernacular photography and filmmaking in shaping cultural experiences. I explore the ways in which people visualize the world around them, looking at how cameras and visual materials frame historical realities, perceptions, and imaginations. The click of a shutter, the contents of a photograph or slide, the turning of an album page, the chattering of a home projector – these are the elements woven into the fabric of my studies.
My current research results from my longtime fascination with the histories and technologies of photography in East Asia and the United States – an interest sparked by family photographs and vivid stories about 20th century China and Taiwan that I encountered while growing up. This, combined with a deep interest in reading, writing, and teaching history, led me to undergraduate studies in East Asian History at the University of California, San Diego and my doctoral work at the University of Michigan.
A book edited by me and Charles Bright (History Emeritus, University of Michigan), War and Occupation in China: The Letters of an American Missionary from Hangzhou, 1937–1938, was published in 2017 by Rowman & Littlefield and Lehigh University Press, part of the Studies in Christianity in China series. I have published essays in edited volumes – most recently Visions of Salvation: Chinese Christian Posters in an Age of Revolution, edited by Daryl R. Ireland and published by Baylor University Press – and articles in the UCLA Historical Journal, U.S. Catholic Historian, Education About Asia, and The Journal of e-Media Studies.
I have presented talks at the American Historical Association, the Association for Asian Studies, the Harvard East Asia Society, the University of Michigan, Fudan University in Shanghai, Pace University, Whitworth University, Central Michigan University, Purdue University, the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History, Boston College, and Columbia University. At Albion College, I was named Phi Beta Kappa Faculty Scholar of the Year in 2022, and Arthur Andersen Teacher of the Year in 2023.
I enjoy combining my academic studies with personal interests. I actively seek to identify – and when possible, collect, restore, and regularly demonstrate – historical photographic equipment that produced the images that I study and teach. The two cameras in my profile photo, for example, are closely linked to prewar China, the United States, and their global connections. The one on the left is an Agfa folding camera that was purchased by an American Presbyterian missionary family en route from Europe to China in 1937. The one on the right is a rare 1933 Rolleiflex Old Standard twin-lens-reflex built specifically for the Chinese market, as part of Sino-German cooperation during the Nanjing Decade. Its focusing knob is factory-stamped “德國製 – Deutsches Fabrikat.” What stories these cameras would tell, if they could speak!
I am an avid photographer and use both digital and film-based media in my personal, professional, and research imaging.