- Collaborative Methodologies and Scholarship on Asia, Empire, and Transnationalism
When I received the request to write a combined review of Chinese Circulations: Capital, commodities and networks in Southeast Asia and Health and Hygiene in Chinese East Asia: Policies and publics in the long twentieth century, coincidentally, I had just finished teaching selected articles from Chinese Circulations in a seminar class and was preparing to teach articles from Health and Hygiene the following week. For the course, I originally selected chapters from each book with the goal of exposing students to specific thematics, networks, and case studies that fit under the broad rubric of “Asia, Empire, and Transnational History.” These books were on the syllabus because they covered different Asian regions and distinct issues. But, as is often the case with teaching, the original reason for assigning readings was transformed through discussion across the texts. As we worked through the selected chapters, discussion turned to the role of collaborative scholarship in research on empire and transnational history in Asia. This discussion involved critically assessing the claims of collaboration presented in the introductory chapters of these two books, the theoretical concepts developed, the structure of the edited volumes, and questions about our reading choices and strategies. While I had not consciously developed the syllabus with these issues in mind, they became a central preoccupation, particularly when the following week the class read selected chapters from The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, modernity, and globalization. I begin with this brief account of teaching the books discussed in this review in order to explain how the request to review two books became a review essay of three edited volumes, each with between twelve and twenty-one substantive chapters. This background also sets out the questions that I pondered with my students and that I continue to think about in this review: One, in a moment when general advice is that edited volumes are not desired by academic presses, why are edited volumes ubiquitous in syllabi concerned with histories of empire and transnationalism? Two, what can we learn from these volumes about methodologies of collaboration for research and teaching on empire and transnationalism?
Before I begin to address these questions, it is important to remark on the consistently high quality of scholarship in each of the three edited volumes. Each book successfully coheres around key relations or problematics that have not been the subject of collaborative work to date: Chinese commodity and capital networks in the Nanyang region; public health regimes in Chinese East Asia; and “the modern girl” as a global phenomenon.
The temporal and spatial parameters covered in each book provide insight into the conceptualization of the volumes and their respective collaborative research agendas. Chinese Circulations opts for Southeast Asia as its geographical framework. It is, according to Chang and Tagliacozzo, a “syncretic book” on the parameters of Chinese trade in Southeast Asia; a book they position as a summary of “where our knowledge now stands and where future directions of research may wish to go” (1). One of the goals of the book is to showcase existing scholarship on Chinese in Southeast Asia, both to familiarize readers with this history and to encourage future scholarship on related topics. This book thus takes up a practice in which study of empire and capital networks is advanced through complementary scholarship on linked topics. Showcasing expert knowledge on specific aspects of a larger phenomenon is essential for the study of empire and transnationalism. This approach allows examination of global interconnection without sacrificing in-depth research on local conditions. Chang and Tagliacozzo do more than just compile essays on Chinese in Southeast Asia, however. They also seek to inquire into the...