Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Department III, Artifacts, Action, Knowledge, Director: Prof. Dagmar Schäfer Working Group and Visiting Scholarships – Ability and Authority in East Asia/China 1200-1450

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

Job type: visiting

Application deadline: April 12, 2020


Ability and Authority in East Asia/China 1200–1450: A new working group in Department III at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin (MPIWG), will run from September 2020 – August 2022.

We are inviting applications for working group members to participate in up to four working group meetings, (dates to be announced).  Working group members will receive funding for travel expenses to enable participation in the four working group events during the period of affiliation. In addition we are offering up to

Six Visiting (Residential) Scholarships

for a duration of between one to three months each. Successful applicants will participate in the two working group meetings, one in 2020, one in 2021 (dates to be announced) as part of their two-year affiliation with the working group. 

This project invites research on communities of practice, work, and labor from 1200-1450, inquiring into the development of expertise and occupational cultures beyond continuities and ruptures in state authority and state control over social status. Working with sources that express an imperial or elite vision, historians have overwhelmingly identified China as a culture that increasingly venerated one kind of knowledge – literati bookish knowledge and scholarly skills – from the Song dynasty onwards. Within this chronology, the sole exception is constituted by the Yuan dynasty, which explicitly and systematically valued and recognized varied abilities – cooking, butchering, dyeing, divining, military and hydraulic management, etc. – in which expertise was gained through daily experience, specialized occupational training, and even research.  Because of this state recognition, in sources from the Yuan period communities of specialists, and the masters of each craft, become visible: recognized for their expertise and training, and achieving authority by forms of belonging in social structures that extended beyond state schemes.

Chronologically, this project focusses on the Yuan and early to mid-Ming periods.  Yuan put its own spin on practices inherited from Song, Liao, XiXia and Jin; and its practice in turn influenced Ming, until renewed commercialization overtook bureaucratic management of labor and expertise.  Geographically, the cosmopolitan Yuan oversaw a greater mixing of knowledge cultures across Asia.  This project therefore takes a cross-dynastic and cross-cultural approach to critical engagement with the question of how politics and political event history affected, were affected by, and failed to affect the development of greater China’s knowledge cultures beyond literati preoccupations.

We particularly welcome, first, research based in a variety of primary sources – texts, images, practices, and material objects – that can both take us beyond state institutions and policies, and shed new light on those institutions and policies.  Second, we particularly welcome interdisciplinary views, that take into account sociological and anthropological insights into occupational skills and occupational cultures viewed from the bottom up.  Third, although our preliminary view is that Yuan and early Ming are a pivotal moment in the history of occupations, we welcome proposals focused on earlier and later time periods that shed real light on the expertise and culture of particular occupations outside the world of the literati.

  • Proposed questions of interest include:
  • How did practices of expertise respond to and contribute to technological and social changes, as well as political change?
  • How did occupational culture and expertise exhibit continuity by remaining independent of, or even actively resisting, social and political change?
  • How were regional attributions of expertise, and ethnic preferences in expertise co-created by the state and workers themselves?
  • What was the relation between social mobility and expert/occupational cultures?
  • How were forms of management influenced by state and self-assessments of labor, skills and standards of expertise?
  • How did occupations relate to one another, both through state mediation and through market or other mediations?
  • How did occupations train and socialize their members, see their relationships to their clients, and develop a shared identity?  How did these aspects of occupational history affect Chinese culture writ large?
  • How did the physical and mental elements of the daily work of an occupation interact to form consciousness and social being in ways that reinforced or ran counter to elite ideological messages?

Visiting Scholars receive an honorary commensurate with experience for their period of residence, and reimbursement for a return ticket to and from their place of residence. They will also receive funding for travel expenses to enable participation in the four working group events during the period of affiliation. Attendance at the meetings is required.

It is possible to only apply for participation in the working meetings.  If you are also applying for the Visiting Scholarship, please indicate in your cover letter your preferred periods of stay.

Visiting Scholars are expected to take part in the scientific life of the institute, to advance their own research project, and to actively contribute to the project group activities during their period of affiliation.

The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science is an international and interdisciplinary research institutions. The colloquium language is English; it is expected that candidates will be able to present their own work and discuss that of others fluently in that language.

Information about the MPIWG can be found on the MPIWG website.

Your Application:

Please apply on the recruitment page by uploading a cover letter of application, CV, and a research proposal (750 words maximum) by April 21, 2020.

Only electronic applications submitted via this job portal will be accepted.

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Boltzmannstraße 22, 14195 Berlin, Germany

If you have any questions, please direct questions to Dagmar Schäfer via email.

Posted: March 18, 2020