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Altan receives Early Career Fellowship in China studies

Selda Altan received an Early Career Fellowship from the Henry Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) in China Studies to continue research for a book she’s writing. 

Randolph professor Selda Altan spent a month this spring immersed in the archives of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and East Asia Library collections.

Her goal: To read the papers of Helen Foster Snow, an American journalist who was in China and reported on the developing revolution there in the 1930s.

The research will be featured in a book Altan is writing about women-led efforts to help United States-China relations during World War II, when China was under Japanese occupation.

A group of Western women connected with Chinese women to provide humanitarian aid, create industrial cooperatives, and open orphanages and schools between 1938 and 1951.

“There was this kind of transnational women’s network,” said Altan, who received an Early Career Fellowship from the Henry Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) in China Studies to continue working on the project.

“In addition to raising money for humanitarian aid, these women also traveled around the world giving lectures about why the Chinese resistance was so important.”

So much of the focus on that time period is usually on the military side of things and, often, the contributions of men.

“Women’s contributions are often ignored and underestimated,” said Altan, a professor of history. “I would like to make the argument that Chinese resistance during the Second World War was not only in battles, but also in helping people. Women’s labor and leadership were so important.”

Last summer, Altan and Ranger Kinney ’24 researched the role Pearl S. Buck, Class of 1914, played during that time period, founding the East and West Association to facilitate cultural exchange between Asia and the West.

Helen Foster Snow was a contemporary and friend of Buck’s. Her husband, Edgar Snow, was also a journalist known for writing about Communism in China.

“We know a lot about Edgar Snow,” Altan said. “Helen Foster Snow was working behind the scenes, but she was also really influential. So much information about the Chinese civil war and revolution came from her.”

Stanford’s Hoover Institution has a collection of Snow’s papers, which allowed Altan to access her personal notebooks and writings, some of which are in Chinese.

Her time there was supplemented with a travel grant from Stanford’s East Asia Library, in addition to the fellowship.

The Luce/ACLS Early Career Fellowships can last up to eight months. Altan taught at Randolph last fall before starting the fellowship in January.

It will run through mid-June, and then she’ll be back on the road again for another book project in its final stages.

With funding from a Davidson Summer Stipend, an internal College award, she’s going to France to collect supplementary materials for a book about the Yunnan-Vietnam Indochina Railway, which was built between China and Vietnam by the French in the early 1900s. The the book will be published in 2024.

“Being in the archives and discovering the worlds of people who traveled to distant parts of the world with compassion is very exciting,” she said. “I look forward to discussing my findings in class and working on research projects with students.”

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