Dr Stephen McDowall
BA(Hons), MA, PhD, FRHistS
Senior Lecturer; Cultural & Social History; China & Global Connections
- History UG Dissertation Coordinator
Affiliated research centres
I grew up in New Zealand, where I gained a PhD from Victoria University of Wellington in 2007. I moved to the UK in 2009 to join a major AHRC-funded project on China’s early modern global connections, led by Anne Gerritsen at the Global History & Culture Centre, University of Warwick. In 2011, while still at Warwick, I was awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship for my project ‘Landscape & Power in Early Modern China’. I moved to Edinburgh in 2012 to take up a Chancellor’s Fellowship in History, and I've been here ever since. Most of the time, I'm either watching cricket, or thinking about watching cricket.
- Member of the British Association for Chinese Studies.
- Member of the Society for Ming Studies.
- Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
- Member of Advisory Board for 'The Material Culture of Art & Design' book series (Bloomsbury Academic).
Bookable Consultation Hours (Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays, 10-11am).
Summary of research interestsPlaces:
- Britain & Ireland
- Comparative & Global History
- Landscapes & Monuments
- Language & Literature
- Material Culture
- Early Modern
- Eighteenth Century
- Nineteenth Century
- Twentieth Century & After
I am a cultural and social historian, specialising in late-imperial China and global connections. My interests include landscape and historical memory, Sino-British relations, the cultures of travel, the long Ming-Qing transition, China in the early modern European imagination, and the material and visual cultures of global connections.
My first book, Qian Qianyi’s Reflections on Yellow Mountain: Traces of a Late-Ming Hatchet and Chisel (2009), challenged conventional scholarship on the Chinese youji 游記 (travel record), and attempted to re-cast the genre as a culturally-creative discursive practice. My latest article (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies) revisits the practice of touring in seventeenth-century China, this time through the lens of the inherited cultural trauma produced by the Ming-Qing transition.
My current research concerns the ways in which visual signifiers of ‘Chineseness’ functioned in British culture from the eighteenth to early twentieth centuries, a subject I explore in articles for Cultural and Social History and the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and which builds upon the previous research I conducted with Professor Anne Gerritsen (Journal of World History). I am particularly interested in non-textual sources, including photographs, postcards, advertisements, theatre programmes and other ephemera, and the material practices that give such objects their meaning. This is the subject of my second book project, and also a significant part of my Honours-level special subject, 'Chinese Whispers: China in Western Minds since 1300' (HIST10438).
- HIST 08032: The Historian's Toolkit.
- HIST 08035: Medieval Worlds: A Journey through the Middle Ages.
- HIST 08034: Early Modern History: A Connected World.
- HIST 08044: Introduction to Historiography.
- HIST 08041: Global Connections since 1450.
- HIST 10425: Historical Skills and Methods II (Honours).
- HIST 10412: Culture and Society in Early Modern China (Honours Elective).
- HIST 10409: Bitter Weed: A Global History of Tea (Honours Elective).
- HIST 10438: Chinese Whispers: China in Western Minds since 1300 (Special Subject).
I am the UG Dissertations Coordinator for History (HIST 10309).
- PGHC 11334: Historical Research: Skills & Sources.
- PGHC 11335: Historical Methodology.
- PGHC 11488: A Cultural History of Photography (MSc Elective).
Sam CHENEY, 'Sounds Exotic: British Perceptions and Representations of Chinese Musicality, 1793-1939' (PhD; Principal Supervisor).
Daniel HEATHCOTE, 'Kenyan Urban Spaces, the Body and Youth Culture in the 1950s and 1960s' (PhD; Assistant Supervisor).
Willem PAUW, 'Transnational Identity and Culture: The Chinese in Scotland' (PhD; Principal Supervisor).
Helen PERSSON SWAIN, 'Chinese Painted Silks: Craftsmanship and Fashion in Eighteenth-Century Britain' (PhD, University of Glasgow; Assistant Supervisor).
WONG Hiu Man, 'A Study of Firearms in the Ming Dynasty'. (MSc by Research; Principal Supervisor; Graduated 2019).
Jing ZHU, 'Visualising Ethnicity in the Southwest Borderlands: Gender and Representation in Late Imperial and Republican China'. (PhD; Co-Supervisor; Graduated 2018).
Currently accepting research student applications : Yes
Areas accepting Research Students in:
I am happy to consider applications from outstanding students interested in researching topics related to China's global history since around 1700, particularly the ways in which China has been imagined and re-imagined by Western observers. For more on my own research, please see the 'Research' tab above.
Stephen McDowall, Qian Qianyi’s Reflections on Yellow Mountain: Traces of a Late-Ming Hatchet and Chisel (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009).
Stephen McDowall, ‘Chinese Studies in a Pandemic: A Historian’s View’, British Journal of Chinese Studies 10 (2020).
Stephen McDowall, ‘History, Temporality, and the Interdynastic Experience: Yu Binshuo’s Survey of Nanjing (ca. 1672)’, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 78.2 (2018): 307-38.
Stephen McDowall, ‘Imperial Plots? Shugborough, Chinoiserie and Imperial Ideology in Eighteenth-Century British Gardens’, Cultural and Social History 14.1 (2017): 17-33.
Stephen McDowall, ‘Bibliographical Notes on the Early-Ming Copy of the Zhouyi zhuanyi daquan at the Edinburgh University Library’, Journal of the British Association for Chinese Studies 4 (2014): 28-39.
Stephen McDowall, ‘The Shugborough Dinner Service and Its Significance for Sino-British History’, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 37.1 (2014): 1-17.
Anne Gerritsen & Stephen McDowall, ‘Global China: Material Culture and Connections in World History’, Journal of World History 23.1 (2012): 3-8.
Anne Gerritsen & Stephen McDowall, ‘Material Culture and the Other: European Encounters with Chinese Porcelain, ca. 1650-1800’, Journal of World History 23.1 (2012): 87-113.
Recent reviews, translations & other publications:
'Yellow Mountain Travels: Four Accounts', translated (with Duncan Campbell & Michael Radich), New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 23.2 (2021): 1-22.
Translation (with Duncan M. Campbell) of Yuan Mei 袁枚, ‘Six Records of My Garden of Accommodation (隨園六記)’, in The Dumbarton Oaks Anthology of Chinese Garden Literature, ed. Alison Hardie & Duncan M. Campbell (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2020), pp. 549-60.
Translation of Yuan Hongdao 袁宏道, ‘Records of West Lake (西湖遊記)’, in The Dumbarton Oaks Anthology of Chinese Garden Literature, ed. Alison Hardie & Duncan M. Campbell (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2020), pp. 674-81.
Review of Rivi Handler-Spitz, Symptoms of an Unruly Age: Li Zhi and Cultures of Early Modernity (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 41 (2019): 201-3.
Review of Cinta Krahe, Chinese Porcelain in Habsburg Spain (Madrid: Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, 2016), Journal of the History of Collections 31.1 (2019): 202-3.
Stephen McDowall, ‘Fourteen Records of West Lake from Yuan Hongdao’s (1568-1610) Deliverance Collection’ in David K. Schneider ed., ‘The Poet as Scholar: Essays and Translations in Honor of Jonathan Chaves’, special issue of Sino-Platonic Papers, no. 272 (October 2017), pp. 37-52.
Review of Jun Fang, China's Second Capital - Nanjing under the Ming, 1368-1644 (London: Routledge, 2014), Ming Studies 74 (2016): 94-97.
Stephen McDowall, ‘Cultivating Orientalism’, The Newsletter 73 (2016): 12-13.
Review of Yanning Wang, Reverie and Reality: Poetry on Travel by Late Imperial Chinese Women (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014), Nan nü 17.2 (2015): 329-32.
Stephen McDowall, ‘Afterglow: The Ming Dynasty since 1644’, Explorer (Autumn 2014): 12-14.
Stephen McDowall, ‘Yuan Hongdao 袁宏道’ in Kerry Brown ed., Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography (Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 1077-82.
For a complete list of Dr McDowall's publications, see Edinburgh Research Explorer.