Event Report on “Who travels thousands of miles? Gender Dimensions of War Dead Accounting and Memory Making in Post-war Vietnam”

On May 2, 2024, the Humanities Research Center hosted Dr. Tâm T. T. Ngô, a senior researcher and associate professor at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in the Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Tâm first had an informal discussion with students and later proceeded to give a talk on her research about the gendered dimensions of war dead accounting and memory making in post-war Vietnam. This event was attended by 20 students and 3 faculty members. Continue reading “Event Report on “Who travels thousands of miles? Gender Dimensions of War Dead Accounting and Memory Making in Post-war Vietnam””

Exploring the “Superdeep”: The third DKU Undergraduate Humanities Research Conference

By Junyan Li, class of 2026

The Humanities community at Duke Kunshan University recently hosted its third annual Undergraduate Humanities Research Conference on April 26th and 27th at the Academic Building. Co-hosted by Professor James Miller from DKU, and Professor Carlos Rojas from Duke, the event served as a platform for researchers and students from diverse backgrounds across China and abroad to share their insights and research findings. More than 120 individuals registered for the conference.

This year’s theme, “Superdeep,” was inspired by an ecosystem of activities at DKU designed by Professor Nathan Hauthaler, which aimed to stimulate philosophical thinking in its most expansive sense.

Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Scott MacEachern addressed the conference, highlighting that this annual gathering has evolved into a significant event that strengthens the bonds within the humanities community.

The conference schedule included four keynote lectures and twelve parallel sessions featuring contributions from students not only from DKU but also from universities across China. The discussions covered a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from literature and art to gender and power, and extending to beliefs, philosophy, and globalization.

Prof. Tang’s lecture: Attention and Practical Knowledge

DKU was more than delighted to welcome four keynote lecturers. (Chenshan Tian) discussed the Confucian philosophy of family feeling (qinqing), exploring Confucian philosophy as a potential resource for a new geopolitical order. Associate Professor Ru Ye from Wuhan University delivered a thought-provoking lecture titled “Can Rational Beliefs Be Arbitrary?” This sparked deep contemplation among the audience about the possibility of multiple rational responses to the same body of evidence. Hao Tang, Professor of Philosophy from Tsinghua University, led a discussion on attention and practical knowledge, enriching the concept of practical knowledge as a form of self-knowledge or self-consciousness. Seth Jaffe, Associate Professor of the History of Political Thought at LUISS, provided a unique interpretation of Thucydides’ account of the causes of war, delving into debates surrounding the “inevitability” of conflict between America and China.

The central premise of this conference is that while not everyone may be a professional philosopher, we can all benefit from engaging more deeply with the intellectual tools that philosophers are developing.

Jackson Li, a sophomore at DKU, found inspiration in the diverse topics presented, particularly resonating with Jaffe’s perspective. He commented, “Applying ancient Greek stories to modern international relations offers a compelling way to consider the complexity of relations between great powers. It suggests that cooperation between China and the United States is a crucial prerequisite for a mutually beneficial situation.”

In addition to the keynote speakers, student presentations in the parallel sessions also brought fresh insights to the conference. Xi Xiong, a junior majoring in philosophy from Wuhan University, expressed her pleasure in exploring topics that have previously been overlooked or unnoticed, with the aim of eliminating hidden evaluative bias within the field of philosophy.

Xi Xiong was participating in a heated discussion.

Renyuan Zhang, another DKU sophomore, reflected on his journey from being a participant last year to a presenter this year, stating, “My role in the HRC may have changed, but the spark of enlightenment remains.” 

Renyuan Zhang presented his research about Shanghai Lockdown in 2022

The conference was not solely about academic discussions; it also incorporated social events such as a gala dinner, a music and dance night, and student film festival, creating a relaxed atmosphere after a day of intellectual engagement.

Professor Miller expressed pride in what the HRC has achieved, not only fostering intense academic discussions in humanities but also providing “a warm and rich social atmosphere with food and wine to help build a shared community of learning.” He noted that over the years, DKU students have formed friendships with their peers at other universities through these conferences, which he described as “beautiful to see.”

Echoing Miller’s sentiments, DKU sophomore Yuequ Dou said, “It’s amazing to hear all the interesting thoughts that people brought up and to make connections with friends all over China.”

The conference indeed served to reinforce Duke Kunshan University’s (DKU) brand identity as China’s premier global liberal arts university. The mission of the Humanities Research Center is to advance interdisciplinary research in the arts, humanities, and interpretive social sciences, contributing to DKU’s goal of becoming one of the world’s leading cross-cultural, research-intensive liberal arts universities.

This year’s event was particularly notable for the launch of the Nexus Journal, a humanities and social science journal created by and for undergraduates at DKU and Duke. This initiative not only strengthens DKU’s brand identity but also fosters a platform for intellectual discourse and exchange in the arts, humanities, and interpretive social sciences. It’s a testament to DKU’s commitment to advancing interdisciplinary research and contributing to its mission of being a leading global liberal arts university.

The launch ceremony of the journal, Nexus

Miller expressed his appreciation for everyone’s enthusiasm, adding, “Hosting the conference with my co-director from Duke, Carlos Rojas, was a bittersweet experience for me, as this is my last semester as co-director. I wish the center every success in the future.”


Student Report on “Buried in the Red Dirt: Race, Reproduction, and Death in Modern Palestine”

Reported by Lia Smith, Class of 2026

This lecture and workshop was a part of the Gender Studies Initiative’s event series. Each event connects gender to a range of topics where gender, sexuality, and feminism are discussed.

On March 29th, 2024 this event brought Professor Frances Hasso from the program in gender, sexuality and feminism at Duke University and 14 event attendees for a discussion of Professor Hasso’s most recent book, Buried in the Red Dirt. This book brings together a myriad of sources to tell a story of life, death, and reproduction, and missing bodies and experiences, during and since the British colonial period in Palestine. The discussion was based upon chapter 3, which focused upon the eugenic practices of both the British and Zionist colonizers of Palestine.

British colonial authorities blamed Palestinians for poverty, hunger, and disease, conveniently sidestepping the harsh realities of colonial extraction. This perspective, deeply rooted in gendered and racialized dynamics, perpetuated inequities in healthcare provision for Palestinians.

Central to the discourse was the exploration of demographic anxieties and eugenicist ideologies that tainted British and Zionist approaches to birth control in Palestine. Despite legal constraints, contraception and abortion emerged as vital methods of birth control for women across all communities, challenging simplistic explanations based solely on religion or culture.

The event unveiled the fallacy of portraying Palestinians as hyper-reproductive, offering a nuanced understanding of their reproductive desires and practices. Contrary to popular belief, Palestinian demographic competition with Jews has been largely irrelevant since 1948, with Palestinian fertility rates shaped by multifaceted factors beyond Zionist anxieties of demographic competition.

DKU faculty and students raises numerous questions throughout the discussions. Many questions tackled methodology, in particular Professor Hasso’s creative use of both archival sources and oral testimonies. Other questions pertained to the modalities of colonial rule, from the level of collaboration/conflict between British and Zionist colonizers, to the ways religious and racial differences were simultaneously deployed by the British to govern Palestine. Finally, questions concerning the contemporary situation in Gaza were raised, such as the differing positions towards the war amongst various Middle East and North African States, to the effect of the war in Gaza on US domestic politics.

Student Report on Gender + Feminism

Reported by Yixin Gu, Class of 2027

The Gender Studies Initiative hosted this discussion as part of their event series. Its primary subject was feminism.

On February 27th, 2024, Professors Lindsay Mahon Rathnam and Qian Zhu, along with 18 attendees, participated in this enriching dialogue on feminism in the Water Pavilion. The meanings of feminism and feminists were fully discussed in this event.

In terms of the reasons for choosing to be feminists, Professor Zhu explained that feminism encompasses everything related to women’s role, position, and everyday life. This bottom-up perspective is crucial if we are to pursue and achieve social justice. It is about the full flourishing of humanity, and we can always observe multiple feminist movements throughout history, such as those during the post-colonial and colonial periods.

When discussing why we still need feminism, Professor Rathnam emphasized the need to dialectically examine and answer history to better break free from the male-dominated realm. She also mentioned that the question of balancing life and work, which is often posed to outstanding women during interviews, is the most implicit manifestation of gender inequality. Women are capable of doing anything and balancing different aspects of their lives without being predetermined to excel in certain areas or being confined to the realm of reproduction.

Both professors noted that throughout history, for various reasons and through diverse processes and outcomes, feminist movements and feminist culture have always been occurring and developing. This is not a creation of modern Western society but is actually deeply rooted in all diverse world cultures. All cultures are about resilience.

After the presentations by the two professors on their perspectives on feminism, there was a lengthy question and answer session. Participants shared their questions and insights, discussing topics such as extreme male dominance in their upbringing environment, the media’s portrayal of gender, and women in religion. The professors also provided answers and engaged in discussions on these subjects.

One student shared her experience living in an extremely patriarchal and unfriendly country towards women, indicating the prevalence of “male-only” areas, and she couldn’t even gain a basic sense of security. She stressed that for that place, feminism means improving women’s health and wellbeing. Feminism takes different forms and contents globally, in fact, they should not be superior or inferior, and should not be opposed to each other, everything depends on specific environmental and historical factors. These statements derived from the professors.

In the realm of religion, the constraints and exclusion of women in Buddhism are brought up, while the comparison of different religions is also fervently discussed. The term “religious feminism” has sparked interest and discussion. In reality, women have the same religious needs and capabilities as men, and increasingly more people are attempting to re-interpret Buddhist scriptures and classics to give them new meaning, promoting gender equality and women’s liberation.

Either overtly or covertly, through exaltation or denigration, feminism permeates daily existence. Allow women to live the life they choose, despite external and patriarchal influences. For women, it is eternally a crucial global issue.

Student Report on “Unpacking Civil Warfare: The First Indochina War, 1945-1954”

Reported by Zhenan Xie, class of 2026

During the mini-term session, on March 11st, the DKU Humanities Research Center invited Professor Edward Miller as the guest speaker of an insightful discussion focusing on his research topic about the first Indochina war. The lecture invited and guided nearly 40 participants to examine the ignored facts of this war usually defined as decolonization or part of the Global Cold War, revealing its essence as a civil war instead. Prof. Miller also used this case to help participants learn about the conclusional features existed in civil warfare.

Prof. Miller first introduced and summarized a few commons often applicable to sovereignty in civil wars, featuring divisible, fragmented, and layered. It was also pointed out that the behavior of claiming legitimacy often played significant role shaping such circumstance of sovereignty in civil wars as multi-level conflicts, including Civil wars: multi-level conflicts consisting of conflicts between warring parties, warring parties and civilian populations, and within local populations and communities. Then Prof. Miller led participants to go through the life experience of Colonel Jean Leroy, founder of UMDC, who was born in and excluded by Ben Tre Province. The story of Leroy helped prove that these existed phenomenon of Vietnamese-led army under command of French imperial governance, proving Prof. Miller’s view about The First Indochina War as a civil warfare. By this lecture an insightful topic was proposed that different understandings might be applied to a same historical event or period, depending on the aspects focused on and interpretations implemented from different perspectives. While exploring and unveiling the untold stories behind common view can help historians and the public have a more complete cognition of history.

The second stage of Q&A session involved enthusiastic participation by both students and professors in attendance. Various questions about the class topic and suggestions regarding the research content were put forward and Prof. Miller answered each of them in detail with extensive supplement of presentation to help participants better understand this complex chapter of history.

We’d like to express our sincere appreciation to Prof. Miller’s impressive presentation and engagement by every participant in attendance. With the loosened COVID policy, this lecture would be an exciting start of continuous activities held in person coming up in 2024. This discussion and insights shared in it is believed to contribute to laying the foundation of a series of lectures. We look forward to holding more activities on humanities research and engaging more students and faculties in the future.

Student Report on “Health X Media: Sexual and Gender Minority’s Well-being & Social Media”

Reported By Dong Ding, class of 2026

On February 22nd, the Health Humanities Initiation hosted its inaugural seminar titled “Health X Media: Sexual and Gender Minority’s Well-being & Social Media.” The seminar was led by Jiahe Qian, a senior majoring in Global Health and Public Policy, with 16 other students participating. The focus of the discussion was on the health issues faced by sexual and gender minorities, exploring stereotypes and stigmas associated with these communities. Additionally, the seminar delved into how individuals express their sexual and gender identities on social media platforms and the impact this has on their health and well-being.

The seminar provided a platform for students to engage in meaningful discussions about the intersection of health, media, and minority issues. It aimed to shed light on the unique challenges faced by sexual and gender minorities and the role social media plays in shaping public perceptions and personal experiences. By examining these topics, the seminar sought to foster a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding health and identity in the digital age.

Overall, the seminar was a successful start to the Health Humanities Initiative’s series of seminars, setting the stage for further exploration of important health-related topics in future sessions. If you are interested in leading the discussion on a health and humanities topic, feel free to contact Dong Ding, the student coordinator of Health Humanities Initiatives at dd275@duke.edu.

Student Report on “The Disenchantment of Love: Dating in the Digital Age among College Students in Beijing”

Reported by Lia Smith, Class of 2026

This lecture and student workshop were a part of the Gender Studies Initiative’s event series. Each event connects gender to a range of topics where gender, sexuality, and feminism are discussed.

On February 1st, 2024, this event brought together Professor Xiying Wang from Beijing Normal University and 29 event attendees for a lecture on how her new focus group data on dating culture in the digital age among college students in Beijing uncovers a new form of emerging culture and perspective on love and dating.

Following the development of communication technologies, digital media has become a mediator in all sorts of relationships, one of them being dating. This is evident in how young single people are making friends and finding dating partners through the digital world. However, through the standardization of communication technologies, perspectives on love and dating, relationship categorization, and the ways in which relationships start and end begin to take on different forms from our traditional understanding.

The May 4th movement symbolized new forms of modernity including love, freedom, democracy, and science. Professor Wang proceeds to explain how the growing process of intellectualization and rationalization has resulted in a belief that we are no longer ruled by mysterious, unpredictable forces. So, does technology make love a more concrete and predictable force? Does it disenchant love?

Professor Wang continues her lecture by introducing the data from her study, focusing on what words are used to address dating, ranging from traditional terms to playful, uncommitted phrases. These different ways of describe and address their dating situations show that college students have diversified dating experiences.

Some relationships start and end online, often referred to 恋爱永远在线 in Chinese. They use online chats to go on dates, they confess feelings and love online, and when the relationship is made official, they announce their dating partner on online platforms. Major milestones and relationship building all happen online. Additionally, when there are issues in these types of relationships, they seek help or quarrel in public online forums. Following the pattern, these relationships also break-up online as well. These individuals see every app as a potential dating app, since the internet is an unlimited space to get to know people.

These online relationships have massive benefits of anonymity, mobility, flexibility. However, there are those who argue that technology has added a false touch to dating. With online interactions, the interactions could be inauthentic. This is seen with heavy photoshop usage and online exchanges that are misinterpreted.

These changes in interactions and relationship developments have also altered the ideal of love. People seem to no longer believe in the idea of romantic love; instead, the emphasis is on communication, tolerance, mutual pursuit and growth.

After the lecture, the student workshop offered students who attended the lecture the opportunity to discuss their different perspectives and observations on Professor Wang’s new research with her. Students shared how the DKU community environment, with its mesh of both the international and domestic population, created a different dynamic and perspective of love that could potentially be relevant to her research. Additionally, Professor Wang and students talked about how money and status play into both on-online and in-person romantic relations, with an example being only daughters from the Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai areas. Finally, students shared some of the research projects and received feedback and suggestions from Professor Wang.

Student Report on the Screening and Discussion of “Blurring the Color Line”

By Anjini Mani

On November 30th, 2023, DKU hosted award-winning filmmaker Crystal Kwok to share her film “Blurring the Color Line”. The screening was followed by a Q&A session, and a salon the next day.  

Over 150 students attended the film screening, packing the DKU theater. The short film captivated and touched students in different ways. Through the lens of her own family, Kwok narrates race relations in the United States between Chinese Americans and African Americans living in the South. The period is centered around the Jim Crow era, a period of American history that divided, disadvantaged, and discriminated against African Americans in social and legal systems. Kwok draws these stories to the present, illustrating a progression and a greater understanding connecting two worlds, but also the things still left behind in the past proliferating still in our communities. The narrative was hard-hitting and emotional, putting in the light an understudied history, forgotten by our high school textbooks. Coming to terms with uncomfortable facts one would rather not face was difficult but important for the young generation to learn, remember, and most of all, understand the present day. 

Students and faculty raised intelligent questions in the Q&A section, curiosity fueled by a deeply introspective film experience. Many felt connected to different parts of the film within their own lives, sharing their unique experiences with the group. Kwok shared the internal dialogue she had in the course of making the film, explaining how the journey of interviewing and storytelling profoundly molded her own views and perspectives on life and family. 

The salon took place in the water pavilion. In a smaller, more intimate group of students, Kwok elaborated further on the filmmaking process, taking students on a deep dive of the art of storytelling. The discussion ranged from the more technical parts of filmmaking to the more human side of sharing lives and experiences in the form of art. Students talked about personal experiences of racism and observations of race relations in their own countries and cultures. The intersection of feminism and race relations was a particularly interesting topic; the group discussed the implications of modern feminism and its connection with the erasure of important stories and perspectives. 

A heartfelt thank you to all participants for contributing to this event. We trust that it has ignited discussions, introspection, and curiosity in your lives, as it has in ours. Despite its challenges, acknowledging history is vital – the past shapes the present, and the present shapes the future.

Student Report on Citizenship Lab Research Symposium

Reported by Cody Schmidt, class of 2025

This symposium was hosted by HRC’s Citizenship Lab. The Lab provides funding and resources to various research projects exploring manifestations and expressions of citizenship throughout the world.

The Humanities Research Center’s Citizenship Lab hosted a research symposium on November 24th, providing students and faculty an opportunity to present and solicit feedback on their work. Multiple disciplines were represented across the three convened panels, each of which involved Q&A sessions to foster dialogue among participants and audience members.

The Citizenship Lab’s co-directors, Professor Quinlan Bowman and Professor Robin Rodd, began the symposium by providing opening remarks regarding the Citizenship Lab’s mission, including understanding the citizen’s role in mobilization for resistance and activism.

The first panel of the symposium, “Equality, Belonging, and Solidarity,” was moderated by Professor Rodd. Professor Hyun Jeong Ha began the panel with her research into a South Korean religious group, the Shincheonji. Her research to date has featured interviews with 20 Koreans to analyze their experiences with the group and explore how their identification with this religious movement shapes their sense of belonging in Korean society. The second presenter for this session was a senior student, Jiyuan Sun. He provided an overview of his signature work project on autonomy-based conceptions of democratic equality.

Jiyuan reflected on his experience, saying, “I feel glad to have the opportunity to present my signature work at the point where a full draft is coming into shape, and to jump out of philosophy’s ‘armchair’ and engage with faculty members and students approaching citizenship topics from diverse disciplinary vantage points.”

“Nature, Culture, and Citizenship” was the overarching theme of the second panel. Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science Claudia Nisa served as the moderator, and also presented her work on the use of reclassification of farm animals as domestic pets and the subsequent effect it has on individuals. Julián Bilmes from Universidad Nacional de La Plata/Fudan Development Institute examined the Chinese-Argentinian relations in the area of natural resource governance. An iMEP student Lingyu He closed the session, presenting fieldwork she undertook in Tibet concerning religious artifacts and their commodification in modern consumer markets.

The final session was entitled “Power and Social Movements.” Professor Coraline Goron moderated and presented first on the panel. Her fieldwork explored citizen science projects in China and how they play a role in expanding citizen capacities in the country. Tanya Torchylo, a senior student, followed. She presented her insights into the way in which Information and Communication Technology facilitated the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2014.

“The symposium provided a fantastic opportunity for me to contemplate the progress of my signature work. Given that my research is ongoing, this reflection allowed me to organize the theories I’ve already explored, pinpoint weaknesses, and develop a clearer vision of how I want to shape my key argument,” Tanya said of the symposium.

Fellow undergraduates, Cody Schmidt and Lucas Chacko, presented next. Like Tanya, they focused on their signature work projects. They explained the meaning of “degrowth” and its connections to current political movements in Colombia. A PhD student at James Cook University, Helena Lopez Anderson, closed the symposium. She led the audience through a digital tour of Perth, Australia, describing how architecture throughout the city reflects the different stories and perspectives of citizenship for white and Indigenous groups.

Event Report on Innovations in Museum Experiences Through Extended Reality: Dr. Yue Li’s Insights

On Thursday, October 26th, 2023, DKU Humanities Research Center (HRC) sponsored an enlightening talk by Dr. Yue Li, titled “Museum Collections in Extended Reality: Explorations on 3D Artifact Interaction and Manipulation Techniques in Virtual Reality and Tangible Interfaces using Augmented Reality.” This Zoom event, organized and hosted by Dr. Xin Tong from HRC’s Anthropocene XR Lab, garnered significant interest, attracting an audience of 35 attendees from diverse backgrounds who are DKU faculty and students.

Dr. Yue Li embarked on an in-depth exploration of the intersection between extended reality (XR) technologies and museum experiences. Her presentation centered on the transformative potential of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) in enhancing the accessibility and interactivity of museum collections. She delved into the nuances of various interaction and manipulation techniques in VR, such as controller-based and hand-tracking interactions, alongside direct and indirect manipulation methods.

The audience, open to the public, engaged actively with Dr. Li, discussing the implications of these XR technologies for future museum design, cultural heritage learning, and museum gifting. The interactive session reflected a keen interest in how XR could revolutionize our interaction with history and culture in educational and recreational contexts.