Dr Stephen McDowall (BA(Hons), MA, PhD, FRHistS)

Senior Lecturer in History


I gained a PhD from Victoria University of Wellington in 2007, and held a research fellowship and a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of Warwick (2009-2012).  I moved to Edinburgh in 2012 to take up a Chancellor’s Fellowship in History, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2018.   

Undergraduate teaching

  • HIST 10412: Culture and Society in Early Modern China (Honours Elective).
  • HIST 10438: Chinese Whispers: China in Western Minds since 1300 (Special Subject).

Postgraduate teaching

  • PGHC 11488: A Cultural History of Photography (MSc Elective).

Areas of interest for supervision

I am happy to consider PhD proposals relating to China in Western minds, broadly conceived.

Current PhD students supervised

Sam CHENEY, 'Sounds Exotic: British Perceptions and Representations of Chinese Musicality, 1793-1939' (PhD; Principal Supervisor).

Daniel HEATHCOTE, 'Postcolonial Culture in Nairobi's Margins, 1963-c. 1982' (PhD; Assistant Supervisor).

Gemma MCLEAN-CARR, 'Odourising the Chinese "Other": Smell and British Perceptions of China and Chinatowns, 1842-1946' (PhD; Principal Supervisor).

Jane Palomera MOORE, 'The Other Empire's "Other": Anglophone Accounts of Visitations with the Ainu People, 1869-1921' (PhD; Co-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). 

QIAN Yuchen, 'Hidden Impressions: British Missionary Photography of China and Japan, 1850-1919' (PhD; Co-Supervisor).

Past PhD students supervised

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).

Research summary

Research interests

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.  More recently, my Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies article 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).

Affiliated research centres


Stephen McDowall, Qian Qianyi’s Reflections on Yellow Mountain: Traces of a Late-Ming Hatchet and Chisel (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009).


Recent articles/essays/chapters/translations:

Stephen McDowall, 'What Remains: Remembering and Forgetting the Ming in Twenty-First-Century Beijing', in Transposed Memory: Visual Sites of National Recollection in 20th and 21st Century East Asia, ed. Alison J. Miller and Eunyoung Park (Leiden: Brill, 2024), 144-63. 

Stephen McDowall, 'Lai Fong 黎芳 (c. 1839-1890): Qing China's Most Successful Photographer', in Creators of Modern China: 100 Lives from Empire to Republic, 1796-1912, ed. Jessica Harrison-Hall and Julia Lovell (London: Thames & Hudson, 2023): 163-65. 

Duncan M. Campbell, Stephen McDowall & Michael Radich, trans., 'Yellow Mountain Travels: Four Accounts', New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 23.2 (2021): 1-22.

Stephen McDowall, ‘Chinese Studies in a Pandemic: A Historian’s View’, British Journal of Chinese Studies 10 (2020). 

Yuan Mei 袁枚, ‘Six Records of My Garden of Accommodation (隨園六記)’, trans. Duncan M. Campbell & Stephen McDowall, in The Dumbarton Oaks Anthology of Chinese Garden Literature, ed. Alison Hardie & Duncan M. Campbell (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2020), pp. 549-60.

Yuan Hongdao 袁宏道, ‘Records of West Lake (西湖遊記)’, trans. Stephen McDowall, in The Dumbarton Oaks Anthology of Chinese Garden Literature, ed. Alison Hardie & Duncan M. Campbell (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2020), pp. 674-81.

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, ‘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.

Stephen McDowall, ‘Cultivating Orientalism’, The Newsletter 73 (2016): 12-13. 

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.

Stephen McDowall, ‘Afterglow: The Ming Dynasty since 1644’, Explorer (Autumn 2014): 12-14.  

Stephen McDowall, ‘Yuan Hongdao 袁宏道’ in The Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography, ed. Kerry Brown (Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing, 2014), 2: 1077-82.

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:

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. 

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.

Jun Fang, China's Second Capital - Nanjing under the Ming, 1368-1644 (London: Routledge, 2014), Ming Studies 74 (2016): 94-97.

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. 

Marcia Reed & Paola Demattè ed., China on Paper: European and Chinese Works from the Late Sixteenth to the Early Nineteenth Century (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2011), Asian Studies Review 36 (2012): 271-72.  

Cong Ellen Zhang, Transformative Journeys: Travel and Culture in Song China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011), China Review International 17.3 (2010): 387-90.

Weijing Lu, True to Her Word: The Faithful Maiden Cult in Late Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), Gender and History 22.2 (2010): 513-14.


For a complete list of Dr McDowall's publications, see Edinburgh Research Explorer.