Introducing Carleton’s Inaugural Distinguished Ott Family Lectureship

5 June 2019

What is the Distinguished Ott Family Lectureship?

Established in Spring 2019, the Distinguished Ott Family Lectureship was designed to benefit the Carleton student academic experience by bringing outstanding guests to campus to lecture on topics highlighting the intersection between history and economics and to encourage sustained interaction between the visitors, history and economics students, faculty, and the broader campus and community. The Distinguished Ott Family Lectureship will alternate between the History and Economics departments every other year. It began in the History department in Spring, 2019.

The First Course and Lecturers

Professor Seungjoo Yoon, Chair, History department, invited three Distinguished Ott Family Lecturers to give a series of public presentations, to participate in his course, History 257: Chinese Capitalism in Global Perspective, and to meet separately with interested students for deeper discussions over breakfasts and lunches.

The three visits and events were coordinated by History department administrative assistant, Nikki Lamberty, who also assembled a student team to help record Carleton’s historic first-ever Distinguished Ott Family Lectureship series. Students Maggie Goldberger ’19, Wendy Yue Wu ’19, Caroline Jimenez Reyes ’22, Henry Brown ’21, Laura Diamond ’20, Jenna Korabova ’21, Anastasia Romanova ’22, and Pierce McDonnell ’21, teamed up to attend, take photos, and write descriptions of the events connected to each speaker’s visit. PEPS videotaped the three public lectures.

April 14-17, 2019: Professor Christopher Isett, Asian Studies and History, University of Minnesota

by Maggie Goldberger ’19

Seungjoo Yoon introduces Christopher Isett

Our first Distinguished Ott Family Lecturer was Christopher Isett, Professor of History and Asian Studies, University of Minnesota. Professor Isett’s public presentation was “China and the Great Divergence: New Findings and Revisiting the Debate.” He provided fresh perspectives about Chinese agriculture and economics and discussed the divergent economic development trajectories of China and Britain stretching back as far as the 16th century. He focused on social and governmental forces that contributed to the so-called “great divergence” in economic development between these two states. His talk attracted many students and faculty from history, economics, political science, sociology-anthropology, and Asian studies.

Seungjoo Yoon and Christopher Issett

At breakfast in LDC dining hall, a group of us discussed Taiwanese politics with Professor Isett. We asked in-depth questions about his lecture the previous evening, and also discussed his research. Afterwards, we took a brief tour around campus and several of us described Carleton to Professor Isett and shared our experiences here, both academic and extracurricular

During lunch with a new group of students Professor Isett discussed his on-going historical research projects in Chinese history, including the study of Maoism and Maoists in countries other than China. Usually people assume that there had been advocates of Maoism in East Germany during the early stage of the Cold War, when the Sino-Soviet split was yet to come. However, he pointed out that Maoism had a considerable impact on West Germany, and recent scholarship continues to investigate this complex and contradictory topic. Some of us shared our historical research activities in different archives around the world. He shared his personal experiences and related his recent historical interest into German Maoists.

Christopher Isett dining with History students

Pierce McDonnell ’21, part of our Ott reporting team and also a member of Professor Seungjoo Yoon’s Hist 257 class, reported on the classroom presentation: “When Professor Christopher Isett visited our class on Chinese Capitalism he discussed an interesting chapter he is currently writing about the start of the Great Divergence for upcoming publication in the Cambridge Economic History of the Modern World.”

Christopher Isett dining with History students

April 21-24, 2019: Brent Irvin ’94, Vice President and General Counsel of Tencent Holdings, Ltd., Shenzhen, China

by Maggie Goldberger ’19 and Caroline Jimenez Reyes ’22 

Seungjoo Yoon and Brent Irvin
Brent Irvin speaks to history students
Brent Irvin dining with History students
Brent Irvin dining with History students

Our second Distinguished Ott Family Lecturer, Brent Irvin, Vice President and General Counsel of Tencent Holdings, Ltd., Shenzhen, China (B.A. Carleton ’94, M.A. Yale, Asian Studies, J.D. Stanford). Brent was a history major at Carleton who worked mainly with Professor Chang-tai Hung. He first visited China in 1991 as part of Professor Roy Grow’s political economy seminar, and has lived and worked in China on and off since graduation. He is currently the Vice President and General Counsel of Tencent Holdings in Shenzhen, the Chinese internet company behind products ranging from WEChat to QQ Music to League of Legends and Fornite.

Brent began his interaction on campus with a group of students at lunch in Carleton’s East Dining Hall. He discussed his experiences working for Tencent Holdings, differences in entrepreneurship between China and the U.S., and the support of start-ups in India

Later in the day he presented a fascinating lecture, “China’s Innovation Economy.” He explained Tencent and the Chinese internet ecosystem, how Tencent became a global player and a leader in product innovation, how competition and the regulatory environment drive product innovation, regulatory and legal developments, and the important example of Shenzhen, China. This talk was very well-attended by a large group of economics, history, political science, sociology-anthropology, Asian studies, and computer science students.

On Tuesday, April 23rd, Brent Irvin was joined for breakfast by a large group of students at the Brick Oven Bakery in Northfield. We were eager to hear more about his work and his research after attending his talk the evening before. He discussed everything from Chinese internet and gaming policy to memories of his time as a Carleton student with us. He also gave us great advice about navigating the tech job market, graduate school, and language study.

Pierce McDonnell summarized the Hist 257 class presentation, “Brent Irvin shared his experiences of working at the Tencent company and offered broad insights on the innovative technology industry of China’s Pearl River Delta area. Several students explored possibilities for internships at Tencent. He answered the students’ many questions and discussed a wide range of topics from trends in mobile product development to the work environment of Shenzhen, China.”

May 15-17, 2019: Professor Ying Jia Tan, Wesleyan, East Asia and History

by Wendy Yue Wu ’19

Seungjoo Yoon and Ying Jia Tan

Our third Distinguished Ott Lecturer was Professor Ying Jia Tan, Wesleyan, East Asia and History departments (B.A. University of California, Berkeley, MA Stanford, MPhil Yale, PhD Yale). Professor Tan’s public presentation, “Local Elite Re-Empowered: Electrification and the Transformation of State-Gentry Relations in the Republic of China, 1927-37,” was about his research on electricity as a revolutionary force in wartime China from 1880s to 1950s. His research provides a new perspective on studying modernity and economic development in China because electricity, “distorts time and space, exacerbates inequality and is a driving force of compressed development.”

Ying Jia Tan visit

Porfessor Tan’s lecture focused on his research of business history case studies of 1950’s Shanghai electricity and silk manufacturing companies, including the economic history of the silk industry in China from the 1880s to the 1930s. He elaborated on how local gentries in the city of Huzhou in Jiangsu province facilitated the electrification of silk production as a means to combat competition from Japanese silk companies, and how these gentries utilized government rhetoric to advocate against the nationalization of electrical companies. He explained that the history of electricity in China is a parallel history of the tensions between the local gentry, engineer bureaucrats, and the central state. His talk was of great interest to history, Asian Studies, political science, sociology/anthropology, and economics students, among others.

Ying Jia Tan with Carleton students
Ying Jia Tan with students

Our student group had an excellent extended lunch and further conversation with him. Professor Tan discussed his experiences both in history and journalism. He shared stories about working in different archives researching economic and historical background items generated by the modernization of electricity in China. He explained the advantages and disadvantages of archival research in the digital age and said that some primary sources are frustrating because they have been too poorly digitized to be used effectively. However, he said, there are an abundance of sources in databases, which can be both a blessing and a curse. He suggested that students “always keep in mind that you need to have a very clear, focused, and researchable topic before you dive into the world of archival resources.”

Ying Jia Tan visit
Ying Jia Tan visit

Pierce McDonnell described Professor Tan’s Hist 257 classroom presentation: “Professor Ying Jia Tan shared insights from his upcoming book on early 20th century electrification in the Republic of China with our class. Tan showed the ways in which electricity played a decisive role in determining the winners and losers of various conflicts, including the victory of the People’s Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War. Another fascinating part of his presentation was his discussion of the role which engineer bureaucrats played in the state administration.”

Thank you to the Ott Family!

All three of our inaugural Distinguished Ott Family Lecturers’ visits were of great interest to students and faculty across a wide variety of disciplines, and all were especially well-attended by both history and economics students. We wish to acknowledge our deep appreciation to the Ott Family for making this series of exciting visits possible for our history and economics students, faculty, and the many others who also benefited from the opportunities of attending their talks, classes, and small group meetings.

Future Distinguished Ott Family Visitors

Next year, 2019-20, the Economics department will host the Distinguished Ott Family Visitor. Their guest will be Professor Tim Leunig, Chief Scientific Adviser Department for Education; Economic Adviser on Housing Supply, DCLG, Associate Professor, Economic History, London School of Economics. Professor Leunig will be co-teaching a course in world economic history with Jenny Bourne (Chair, Economics Department, Carleton College) in Winter 2020. He will visit during weeks three and four. He will also offer the annual Veblen-Clark lecture for the Economics department and will give a convocation presentation on Friday, January 24, 2020.

The History department is looking forward to again hosting the Distinguished Ott Family Lectureship in 2020-21.

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