• Professor Scott Relyea

    Scott Relyea 李皓同

    Assistant Professor of Chinese History
    and East Asian Studies


    Professor Relyea (currently on leave for the 2015-2016 academic year) is a historian of late imperial and twentieth century China, specializing in political, social, and intellectual history, with a particular regional focus on China’s southwest, encompassing Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and the Tibetan plateau. His primary research interests center on nationalism, state-building, ethnic construction and identity, and the global circulation of ideas embodied in the interaction between empire, state, and nation, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In his research and teaching, Prof. Relyea is especially interested in exploring perceptions, representations, and manipulation of the history produced by these interactions as manifest in the use of history by governments, scholars, and the news media both in the past and today.

    His current book project, tentatively titled Gazing at the Tibetan Plateau: China’s Infrontier and the Early Twentieth Century Evolution of Sino-Tibetan Relations, situates the origin of contentions in recent Sino-Tibetan relations in efforts to incorporate the Kham region of ethnographic Tibet into the burgeoning Chinese state and nation during China’s transition from empire to state in the first two decades of the twentieth century. A parallel project, ‘Learning to Be Colonial,’ traces the global circulation of ideas about colonization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the influence of newly globalizing norms such as sovereignty, and their intersection with long-standing Chinese imperial frontier policies on novel efforts by Sichuan officials to encourage Han settlement of eastern Tibet. He recently began work on a new project, ‘Scattering Sand: High-speed rail, nation-building, and China's urban-rural divide in historical perspective,’ an outgrowth of a section of his dissertation concerned with early Republican railroad proposals. This research draws on the concept of ‘network ghettoes,’ introduced in Splintering Urbanism (2001), and Sun Yat-sen’s ambitious plan for a vast railroad network, introduced in International Development of China (1922), to explore the geographical planning and ramifications of China’s high-speed rail network in the context of political, economic, and social forces which have exacerbated the urban-rural divide throughout the past century.

    Originally from Boston, Mass., Prof. Relyea earned a BS in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University; an MA in International Affairs from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University; an MA in Chinese Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London; and a PhD in Chinese History from the University of Chicago. During his academic career, he has studied Chinese at Middlebury College, National Taiwan Normal University, National Taiwan University, Fudan University, Sichuan University, and Southwest University for Nationalities; and Tibetan at the Manjushree Centre in Darjeeling, India. Before joining the Hamline faculty in 2011, Prof. Relyea was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, and taught Chinese history at the University of Toronto.


    Teaching style

    ‘Not hearing is not as good as hearing, hearing is not as good as seeing,
    seeing is not as good as knowing, knowing is not as good as acting;
    only through action can a thing be truly learned.’

    These words by Xunzi 荀子, a Confucian philosopher from the third century b.c.e., reflect my approach to teaching. In my courses, we learn actively by closely engaging with both textual and visual sources in writing assignments and discussion. I strive to transport my students back to the era we’re studying, encouraging them to join me in an investigation of how history unfolds in its time, to actively see history through the eyes of its participants and actors. We accomplish this by supplementing secondary historical readings with critical engagement with the thought and writings of people who lived in that time and through the integration into lecture and discussion of archival videos, photos, images, documentaries, and even cinematic portrayals of the past. In my courses, I also seek to first reveal, then challenge the tendency to teleology inherent in interpretations of history often viewed through a contemporary lens. I see my classroom as a community of learning, an open space wherein all students can feel comfortable discussing the history and experimenting with the themes and theories presented in class, making mistakes, correcting, and learning from each other.

    Everyday we are confronted with history in some form. The ability to analyze a reading, whether a textbook or a speech, a treaty or a newspaper, and to critically discuss its contents and assertions over coffee or on a blog is essential to expanding our knowledge of the world around us.