Shenglan Li Interview
Major Fields: East Asian History, Modern China
Minor Fields-History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Gender and Global Studies
One of the History Department's most recent graduates, Shenglan Li, has been spending the past few months preparing lectures and syllabi for her new job at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. In a series of highly competitive job interviews, Li was selected to be one of the newest instructors of History at the liberal arts college, starting in Fall 2017. In addition to preparing for her tenure-track job, Li has been very busy finalizing and defending her dissertation. Before joining our department as a History graduate student, she had received her B.A. as a double major in History and Economics/Business at Nankai University in Tianjin, China. Two years later in 2013, she had traveled to Binghamton to pursue a Master's Degree. Li said during her search for a university with ample funding and overlapping research interests, she had found the work of our Department's Fa-Ti Fan particularly fascinating. "His work on the history of science seemed to overlap well with my previous studies on disease in Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean", Li said. "I thought, 'He would be a great supervisor!'" From there, Li's ideas for her dissertation work germinated while taking a course on medicine and the body in East Asia. Though fascinated by the readings, Li noticed that "no one wrote about nurses." Her interest was also rooted in her family: "My mom was a nurse, so naturally I wanted to explore this topic. Right after that course I traveled home to China and there was a local exhibition on medicine in the early 1900s. The organization hosting it had discovered a lot of old files, many of which dealt with nurses in the 1940s. I asked the archivist for more information, and he told me he didn't really know! So I thought, 'There's something I can work on!'"
Working with Dr. Fan and her dissertation committee members Sonja Kim, Jean Quataert, and John Chaffee, Li has traveled the world in search of extensive research materials that bridged modern Chinese history with turn-of-the-century changes in the structure of Western medicine and its administration. "It deals with wartime nursing in China through 1900 to 1950," Li said. "I basically traced the process of how the Nightingale system was transplanted into China, how they adapted a rather alien style of nursing care." Li further sought out to construct a narrative of this change throughout the turmoil and devastation of the Second Sino-Japanese War. "It's also about how nurses experienced war in different circumstances: under the Japanese occupation, in free Chinese territory, how they migrated in between and ultimately, how they survived the war. Ultimately, my question was 'How did the idea of nursing transform medical care in China, and how did it change the gendered relationships?'"
Such an ambitious analysis necessitated ample travel and research in several archives in a multitude of nations. In 2015, Shenglan visited at least ten different archives in China, including archives at Hunan Medical College, Peking Union Medical College, Beijing Municipal Archives, and archives at Nanjing, Shanghai, and Guizhou. Li had also found a rare nurses' diary documenting the Rape of Nanking. In addition, she consulted Chinese national newspapers and Taiwanese archives, and used several manuscripts located at the Rockefeller Archive Center, Columbia University, and Yale University.
We are very excited for Shenglan and her future endeavors at Wheaton College, and wish her the best in what is sure to be a fruitful academic career!