Oral History Center - UC Berkeley Library

Frederic E. Wakeman, Jr.: Historian of Late Imperial and Modern China University of California, Berkeley, 1965-2006

Wakeman, Jr. Frederic E. .
Lage, Ann
Frederic E. Wakeman, Jr.: Historian of Late Imperial and Modern China University of California, Berkeley, 1965-2006
Frederic E. Wakeman was professor and scholar of Chinese history at the University of California, Berkeley from 1965-2006. Along with mentoring several generations of students at Berkeley, he wrote groundbreaking histories of late imperial and modern China, meticulously researched, deeply analytical, and written with the graceful narrative style of a master novelist. On the Berkeley campus Wakeman chaired the Center for Chinese Studies from 1973-1979 and was director of the Institute of East Asian Studies from 1990-2001. As vice chair of the US Committee on Scholarly Communication with China, he was instrumental in opening scholarly exchanges between the US and China to social scientists in the 1970s. In the 1980s he chaired the Social Science Research Council. His public service, coupled with his research, writing, and teaching, had a major impact on China studies in the US and internationally. The oral history delves at length into Wakeman’s unique early life and education guided by his father’s ambitions for his elder son and his own wide-ranging interests. He discusses intellectual mentors and compatriots at Harvard, Berkeley, in China, and elsewhere who influenced his research interests and approaches. He describes the genesis, research, and writing of his major works and the impact of collaborative relationships with Chinese scholars, the opening of Chinese archives to US scholars, and the advantages of his “border runner” perspective on Chinese history. Wakeman reflects on the all-male cohort hired in the Department of History at Berkeley in the late fifties and early sixties, a variegated group with tolerance for different historical approaches and insistence on rigorous standards for promotion to tenure. He contrasts the camaraderie of this group with the department’s gender and cultural battles in the early and mid-1980s. He vividly describes campus protests of the Vietnam war era and the effect of campus political battles on the history department and the Center for Chinese Studies. Wakeman also traces hiring in the China area, making the Berkeley department a major US site for training historians of China.
Subject area(s):
Education, University of California
Interview date(s):
2005, 2006
History Department, UC Berkeley
Frederic E. Wakeman, Jr. “Frederic E. Wakeman, Jr.: Historian of Late Imperial and Modern China: University of California, Berkeley, 1965- 2006” conducted by Ann Lage 2005-2006, Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2019.