By Abby Weingarten
Xia Shi, Ph.D.—an associate professor of history and international and area studies at New College—has secured an ambitious research grant that is awarded to only 9.8 percent of applicants annually.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Stipends Program grant will help fund research for Shi’s book project, Concubines in Public: Gender, Embodied Subjects, and the Politics of the Private in Republican China. Delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Shi will not be able to travel to China this summer but plans to conduct her extensive research in 2021.
“This is a very difficult grant to secure, and we wish Dr. Shi success on her sponsored project,” said Michelle Gooding, New College’s director of the Office of Research Programs & Services (ORPS) and administrator for the Institutional Review Board (IRB).
The NEH funds tens of thousands of lectures, discussions, exhibitions and other initiatives yearly. The Summer Stipends Program, for individual scholars with the accompanying nomination of their college, is one of its most competitive options (it is limited to only two applicants per institution per cycle). On average, the NEH receives 827 applications and makes 81 awards each year.
Shi will be given a $6,000 stipend to spend two consecutive months pursuing archival research in China. Her focus will be on Republican China from 1912 to 1949—a period when the degree of public visibility that was given to concubines was historically unmatched.
“The highly visible concubine, meanwhile, became stigmatized as a glaring symbol of the degenerate Chinese nation. This book explores this paradox by examining the controversial public presence of concubines, and its multifaceted social and cultural consequences, in an age when reformists had launched vehement attacks on concubinage,” Shi said. “It argues that these women should not be evaluated as merely members of an outdated social category, waiting to be eliminated. They were a key group of controversial women who were often at the center of intense public debates about China’s imperial past and its Republican future.”
By showing how concubines’ public visibility intricately connected elite men’s private lives to national politics, the book provides new insights on how gender functioned in important (yet overlooked) ways in the progressive politics of the Republic, Shi explained.
The NEH grant will be a major boon to Shi’s academic work. When Shi does visit China, she will spend most of her time in the Shanghai Library, which boasts the largest collection of late Qing and Republican-era newspapers and journals. These sources, including various databases and digitized books, are crucial to examining how concubines were discussed and perceived in the modern print media (particularly for chapters three and four of Shi’s book).
“Since this is a very prestigious award in the realm of humanities, receiving it is a nice recognition of the value and the quality of the research project a scholar is conducting,” Shi said. “The recognition makes me feel even more motivated.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.