"I feel obligated to make my work accessible and interesting to students. If I can articulate terms, concepts and theories to them in a way they can understand, then I feel I'm doing well."
Professor Greg Clingham, English, peers through an 18th-century literary lens to examine questions of culture, history, philosophy and self. He recently completed a fellowship at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where he researched the writings of Sir George Macartney, a British diplomat who served in posts including Russia, India, the West Indies, the Cape of Good Hope and China.
Clingham regards the relatively unknown Macartney as a global figure who left a remarkable paper trail – not only daily journalistic records of political encounters, but also keen observations of interactions with people of different cultures at a time when the world was just opening up to exploration and mapping.
"As ambassador on the first British embassy to China, he took 94 people with him to Peking – clockmakers, scientists, draftsmen, linguists and philosophers," says Clingham. "At the time, China was a world power, with the Qianlong emperor standing, as the Chinese saw it, at the center of the universe and enmeshed in an extensive mythology. So the Chinese thought that all of the scientific equipment brought by the British were birthday presents for the emperor, when in reality they were meant as a sign of Britain's greatness and advanced knowledge."
Macartney detailed this misunderstanding in A Narrative of an Embassy in China – 1792-94. "We understand that the embassy was a diplomatic failure," says Clingham. "But Macartney's account also reveals an astonishingly sensitive, open-minded and flexible understanding of the Chinese as a people – the beauty of their art, their gardens and the kindness of individuals. It also contains many insights into the difficulties each side had in understanding the other. As a self-conscious narrative, Macartney's text meditates on the nature of cultural difference in a very modern and sophisticated way."
Clingham's position as the James P. Crozier Chair in English Literature has allowed him to read Macartney's unpublished correspondence, diplomatic papers and journals in archives in London, Oxford and Cape Town. He also serves as Director of the Bucknell University Press.
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