Oral Histories

Interview of Edward Farmer

Professor emeritus of Chinese and East Asian history at the University of Minnesota. Founding president of the Society for Ming Studies.
Chinese Studies Scholars Oral History Project
Chinese Studies
Area Studies
Biographical Note:
Professor emeritus of Chinese and East Asian history at the University of Minnesota. Founding president of the Society for Ming Studies.
Chen, Su
Farmer, Edward
Persons Present:
Farmer and Chen.
Place Conducted:
The interview was conducted using the Zoom video conferencing platform.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Su Chen, head of the Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Library, and former head of the East Asian Library at University of Minnesota. The interviewer prepared for the interview by reading documents related to Farmer’s activities in research, teaching, and administration and a transcript of an interview with Farmer conducted by Professor Clarke A. Chambers of the University of Minnesota on June 30, 1994.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording as transcribed by a machine transcribing program and audit-edited by the interviewer. The interviewee was given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections and additions.
7 hrs
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The past sixty years have been an important period in the development of Chinese studies in the U.S and Canada. Those years have seen increased funding from Title VI and other sources, the evolution of new fields and areas of specialization, and the systematization and professionalization of scholarly training. They have also seen momentous changes in China’s status in the world and in the relationship between China and the U.S.—changes that, in turn, have had major consequences for the scope, status, and impact of the field of Chinese studies.Although these have been highly consequential years for Chinese studies, the details of these developments are often preserved only in the participants’ memories, and there has been no systematic effort to record those memories. The Chinese Studies Scholars Oral History Project is a collaboration among Chinese/East Asian studies librarians and scholars in the U.S. and Canada, the UCLA Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library, and the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research. Through in-depth, multi-session oral histories, it documents the development of the field of Chinese studies, the academic careers of its prominent practitioners, and the social, political, and economic context of which it was a part. Some interviews in the series are not available online at this time, among those the interviews with the following: Evelyn Rawski, Thomas Rawski.
Born in Palo Alto, California, fifth-generation immigrant – Family history, parents’ education, experience, and careers – Siblings’ education and career path – Move from Palo Alto to living on the Stanford University campus when eleven – Goes to school with mixed-race students – Goes to Stanford in 1953, interests shift from biology and chemistry to history – Exposure to Chinese history and philosophy – Career choice changes to teaching – Mother passes away and father remarries - Joins U.S Army in 1957 and goes to Army Language School to study Chinese – Military duty in Pusan, South Korea – Visits Taiwan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong in 1960 – Starts graduate study at Harvard University with National Defense Education Act funding – Studies Qing documents under John Fairbank – Develops Interest in Chinese cultural identity and begins studying Ming history – Gets Fulbright fellowship in 1965 to study in Taiwan and publish Ming Directory – Experience in conferences on Chinese studies – Federal funding’s impact on the intellectual landscape of American social sciences – Takes tenure track job at University of Minnesota.
Study at Harvard – John Fairbank’s teaching and research on foreign relations – Works with Benjamin Schwartz on intellectual history and Yang Liansheng on Ming studies – Politics of the China field – McCarthyism’s impact on Chinese studies - U.S. foreign policy toward China - Vietnam War – The public debate and open hearings on China policy – The founding of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars (CCAS) and the bulletin of the CCAS – U.S.’s normalization of relations with China and relationship with Taiwan - The People’s Friendship Association and academic politics – Visits China in 1975 and meets Chinese peer scholars – Career as a professor at University of Minnesota – Over several decades the history department, goes from being conservative to progressive – The place of Chinese area studies in the university – The Midwest China Center and the Minnesota branch of the Asia Society – Becomes joint faculty and second chair of East Asian studies department.
Association for Asian Studies (AAS) and its annual conventions – Serves as president of Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs – Academic organizations and movements during the Vietnam War - The American Historical Association - The American Council of Learned Societies - Publication program in Taiwan – The role of library collections in Ming studies – Wife’s career and consortium for Chinese language education – Academic exchange between U.S. and China - Visits China as a member of the second delegation of the University of Minnesota in 1980 – Develops connections with Chinese universities - Compares the first visit in 1975 (politically intense) with the later visits in the 1980s and 1990s (improvement in the standard of living and technology) – Attends Ming-Qing history conferences at Nankai University in 1980 and 1996 – Intellectual mismatch between Anglophone scholars and Chinese scholars - The China Center at University of Minnesota – Joins the 1995 delegation to China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan – Directs the Institute of International Studies – International studies and global studies.
Development of the field of Ming studies – Qing history scholars’ impact – Ming studies at the University of Minnesota – The difference between undergraduate and graduate education – Supervises students in Ming studies – Starts the journal Ming Studies and adds a news notes section and a monograph series – Publishes a research guide and some dissertations – Organizes the Society for Ming Studies, which becomes affiliated with the AAS – Connections with China through conferences – Scholarship in Ming history - Intellectual interest in comparative Asian history and comparative world history – The role of Ming history in global history – Global studies and topical-based research – Experience with libraries in the U.S. and in China – The significance of Ming history – Congress of orientalists – The significance of Chinese Studies in the contemporary world and in the context of China-US relations.