Department of History


Tim Brook, Professor, PhD. Harvard University, 1984
Prof. Brook teaches the history of the Ming dynasty and of China in the twentieth century, and is the author of 14 books on Chinese history. Of the 10 that have been translated into Chinese, three having to do with civil society, collaboration, and the rape of Nanking have been held back for political reasons. Best known are The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China and Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of Globalization.

Carla Nappi, Assistant Professor, PhD. Princeton University, 2006
Prof. Nappi’s research focuses on practices and institutions of knowledge-making in early modern China. Her first book, The Monkey and the Inkpot: Natural History and its Transformations in Early Modern China (Harvard University Press, 2009), explored the construction of evidence and belief about plants and animals through the lens of the Bencao gangmu [Materia medica in Categories General and Specific] (1596), a massive encyclopedia of medical and natural knowledge composed by Li Shizhen (1518-1593). She is actively working on two book projects that make use of Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan sources to create a globally situated and translingual history of early modern China. Illegible Cities: Translating Early Modern China is devoted to understanding the institutional, textual, social and epistemic history of translation in China from the fifteenth through mid-eighteenth centuries. Recipes for Exchange: Drugs and Empire in Chinese Early Modernity explores early modern Chinese relationships with borderland medical and scientific cultures in an attempt to understand how the history and modern study of Chinese materia medica is shaped by the continuing reverberations of Chinese imperial expansion in the period 1600-1800. In addition, Nappi has spent several years studying classical and modern Arabic language for a long-term project, tentatively titled Rihla: Science and Medicine Along the Silk Routes, that will be a focused study of Chinese-Islamic knowledge exchange in early modernity.

Leo K. Shin, Associate Professor, PhD. Princeton University, 1999
Prof. Shin is an associate professor of History and Asian Studies at UBC. A cultural historian of later imperial China, he is particularly interested in how the sociology of culture – the production, transmission and consumption of beliefs and practices – has shaped not only how the boundaries of China have been drawn but also how China itself has been historicized. He is the author of The Making of the Chinese State: Ethnicity and Expansion on the Ming Borderlands (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and is writing a book on the uses of the images of a Chinese martyr from the twelfth century to the present.

Glen Peterson, Associate Professor, PhD. University of British Columbia
Prof. Peterson is a social and cultural historian who specializes in the history of Guangdong and South China. For the past two decades he has studied the history of what is now increasingly referred to as “maritime China”: that is, the South China littoral region with its traditions of seafaring, emigration and economic and cultural exchange. His research interests include Chinese education and literacy, Chinese migration to Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia and Singapore, and the role of Chinese overseas in the modernization of China. His books on these subjects include The Power of Words: Literacy and Revolution in South China (1997); Historical Dictionary of Guangdong and Guangzhou (Canton) (1999); Education, Culture and Identity in Twentieth-Century China (2001) and Motherland! Overseas Chinese in the People’s Republic of China (2011). His current research examines the significance of the People’s Republic of China in the emergence of the postwar international refugee regime in Asia.

Henry Yu, Professor, PhD. Princeton, 1994
Prof. Yu is involved in the collaborative effort to reimagine the history of Vancouver and of British Columbia through the concept of “Pacific Canada,” a perspective that focuses on how migrants from Asia, Europe and other parts of the Americas engaged with each other and with First Nations peoples historically. Read “Our Own Not-So-Quiet Revolution” and Prof. Yu’s essay “Global Migrants and the New Pacific Canada,” written for the 25th Anniversary of the Asia Pacific Foundation. Also visit Yu’s blog Past Present.

Prof. Yu is also the Director of the Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies (INSTRCC), the first stage of a long-term commitment at UBC to the study of trans-Pacific migrations and the long history of interactions between Asian and European migrants and First Nations peoples in Pacific Canada.

Prof. Yu is committed to expanding the engagement between academic research and the communities that the university serves. He is the Project Lead for a $1.17 million project entitled Chinese Canadian Stories: Uncommon Histories from a Common Past which will create a one-stop web portal for the reinterpretation of Canadian history through the lens of Chinese Canadians. Receiving $900,000 from the Community Historical Recognition Program of the Canadian Federal government, this project aims to gather the ignored histories of one of the “founding peoples” of Canada and to use the latest in new media technologies to present a new understanding of our common history.

In 2005, Prof. Yu and Teaching Assistant Jennifer Lau took students from classes at UBC and UCLA in a unique six-week summer field course comparing Asian migration and its effects on Vancouver and Los Angeles. Entitled “Eating Our Way from Vancouver to LA,” the popular course focused on food and restaurants as a way of understanding cultural change. In the summer of 2007, Prof. Yu took an even larger group of UBC students on a joint field course with University Scholar Program students from the National University of Singapore. Entitled “Eating Our Way Across Southeast Asia,” the 20 UBC and NUS students, along with TA Jennifer Lau and fellow UBC Professor emeritus Graham Johnson, literally ate their way through Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Singapore, Malacca and Kuala Lumpur. The summers of 2009 and 2010 saw students from UBC and from NUS each spending two weeks in Vancouver and Singapore in group research projects comparing the two cities, and of course sampling their cuisine. Watch a film made by the students examining how the two cities have dealt with their historic Chinatown districts.

Prof. Yu and Prof. Peter Ward were co-investigators in a project involving the creation of a digital database of the approximately 96,000 Chinese Canadians who paid the discriminatory Head Tax between 1885-1923. This project involved student research assistants Jason Chan, Mary Chan, Denise Wong, and PhD student Feng Zhang. Put online in 2008, this database enables Chinese Canadians whose ancestors were Head Tax payers to search digitally for their records.


In 2007, UBC officially launched the Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian studies (INSTRCC). Built from the ground up by students over a three-year period, INSTRCC is the first stage of a permanent commitment to teaching and research focused on the role of Asian Canadians in the building of Pacific Canada. Supported by the commitment of its participating students, faculty and community donors, INSTRCC focuses on recovering the complex story of Chinese Canada as both a geographical concept – capturing the long-standing ties of the west coast of Canada with the Pacific region – and as a historical framework built from processes of migration and trade that have linked North America to Asia and the Pacific for hundreds of years.

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia
UBC Asia Pacific Regional Office
Room 1207, 12/F., FWD Financial Centre, 308 Des Voeux Road Central,
Hong Kong, China
Tel: 852-2111-4400
Fax: 852-2111-9532

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