The School of History has recently welcomed two new specialists in International History
Let’s get to know Dr Yuexin Rachel Lin and Dr Matthew Woolgar.
What is your specialism? What brought you to this research area and continues to drives your interest in it?
Dr Lin: I explore the very lengthy borderlands between Russia and China, which stretch from today’s Central Asia/Xinjiang to the Pacific Coast along Russia’s Maritime Province and China’s Northeast. Right now I’m mostly working on the Russian refugees and Chinese migrants who fled across this frontier after the 1917 Revolution, which had wider implications for the development of international humanitarian regimes at the time.
Also, I’m interested in how the history of this region is presented to Russian and Chinese publics today. I’ve always been fond of Russian art and literature, so when the chance came to study Russian history at undergrad, I couldn’t resist. From that time onwards I was often the only student in the room arguing for Asian perspectives to be considered. That led me down the path to the Sino-Russian frontier!
Dr Woolgar: My focus is on developments in Indonesia and Southeast Asia amid the global transformations of the twentieth century. My first major project examines grass roots social mobilisation in Indonesia during the Cold War.
I became interested in the region having taken a module on Southeast Asia as an undergraduate and was fortunate to subsequently study on the Indonesian government’s Darmasiswa exchange programme. Indonesia had one of the largest communist parties in the world in the 1960s and experienced some of the Cold War’s most intense violence, yet its history much less researched than some other Cold War flashpoints.
More broadly, Indonesia, as the world’s fourth most populous country and the most populous Muslim-majority country, is a fascinating vantage point for exploring global issues ranging from decolonisation and the Cold War, to Afro-Asianism, developmentalism and democratisation.
Why do you think students should study modern international history?
Dr Lin: The topics we grapple with in international history are expansive and wide-ranging, from global institutions and high-level diplomacy on the one hand to cross-border intellectual exchange, underground networks and transient mercenaries on the other.
We’re often surprised by the connections that can be made across space and time: White Russian fascists showing up in Connecticut, Vietnamese nationalists writing to Japanese supporters in Chinese script. By exploring these issues, we not only gain a deeper understanding of the convergences and chaos around us, but also come to question the political and cultural boundaries that we often take for granted.
Dr Woolgar: Public discourse in politics and the media often lacks historical perspective. Studying modern international history encourages students to think more broadly both temporally and geographically. This in turn provides helpful tools and approaches for considering the contemporary world in a new light.
What key sources do you most relish sharing with students who are new to studying your topic?
Dr Lin: I’m very keen on mixing “traditional” sources with more unfamiliar ones, especially from literature or visual culture. One of my courses includes the Tatlin Tower, Japanese cartoons and Chinese short stories. Others that I’m developing will feature Langston Hughes’ poetry, Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, Chinese travelogues and Russian folk prints. It’s great when students connect with the material not only intellectually, but aesthetically and empathetically as well.
Dr Woolgar: I am particularly keen to explore oral history sources with my students. These sources can provide access to voices absent from written records, and are particularly valuable for researchers of social movements. At the same time they pose challenging methodological questions with regard to the malleability of recollections and the ethics of historical research.
What are you looking forward to about working and living in Leeds?
Dr Lin: I’m excited to be joining such a welcoming and diverse School! There is so much to learn from colleagues with different temporal and geographical areas of expertise. Outside of work, I look forward to exploring theatre, music and food in Leeds – it also helps that I’m a huge fan of Henderson’s Strong & Northern Relish (admittedly made in Sheffield).
Dr Woolgar: I am particularly excited to work at the University of Leeds given the breadth of expertise in the School of History and its encouragement for cross-fertilisation between cutting-edge research and innovative teaching. More broadly, it is great to be working in a vibrant city that is also only a short journey into areas of outstanding natural beauty.