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History Graduate Student Completes Research in China

Yiyun Huang

In July 2019, Yiyun Huang returned from his travels abroad in China. Instead of whiling away his summer on a beach, Huang had been browsing historical archives in Guangzhou on a UTHC-funded research trip.

A PhD candidate in the UT Department of History, Huang studies the 18th-century tea trade between China and America. Many believe that knowledge of Chinese culture was primarily gathered by missionaries and researchers. But Huang contends that the tea trade not only was crucial to the exchange of goods but also that it facilitated the transfer of knowledge and culture. 

Studying this topic is not without obstacles. Because Guangzhou was the main exporter of tea from China to America, many of the historical documents relating to the 18th-century tea trade are housed there. “Some research libraries in North America have several sources concerning the tea trade,” Huang noted, “but I would say that libraries in Guangzhou have the best collections in the world.” That meant that in order to complete his research, Huang needed to travel to these libraries.

Funding provided by UT Humanities Center helped make a trip this summer possible. Huang especially appreciated his time in the Sun Yat-sen University library, where he had access to the special collection archive. “They had sources that I am truly excited about and have never seen before. I spent two weeks there reading and scanning gazetteers, Guangzhou customs documents, and scholarly writings about tea trade.”

Amy Elias, Director of the UT Humanities Center, noted that the UTHC is proud to support graduate student research through its Graduate Student Summer Travel Fund. Those wishing to support graduate-student research also may donate to the “Thomas J. Heffernan” fund, named to honor the founding UTHC director and established to support graduate students’ research in the humanities.

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