H-Business--Interviews to Emerging Scholars, by Ashton Merk

The Business History Conference offers extensive support to emerging (or early-career) scholars, including a doctoral colloquium, a mentoring program, and, crucially, a much-loved free breakfast at the BHC. But when, exactly, do you emerge? And what happens after that?  That’s what I hope to illuminate with this series of interviews with emerging scholars on their state of mind, the state of the field, and everything in between.

Today’s interviewee is Dr. Dan Du, Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.



AM: How did you get interested in business history?

DD: I was a double major in finance when I was an undergraduate at the Department of History of Nankai University in China, so I became interested in the history of finance before I realized that I could be a business historian. In some ways this parallels some of the themes I explore in my book manuscript, in which mercantile firms furnished themselves with financial facilities before the rise of banking. 

The best part about doing historical research is the time spent in museums and archives. When touching the objects created centuries ago and reading about people’s anxieties and joys in old manuscripts, I can feel the personal connections between my subject and me. This makes this job more meaningful. 


AM: What was your first business history conference (BHC, EBHA, etc.), and was there anything particularly memorable about it?

DD: My first BHC conference was in Athens, Georgia, in 2010, one year after I was admitted to the Ph.D program of the University of Georgia. This was also the first conference that I attended in the United States, and it was on my campus! I can still remember how nervous I was, because, as an international student, I would be presenting my M.A. thesis on U.S. free banking, which was finished in China, to an American audience in English for the first time. However, based on the questions and feedback that I got during and after the Q & A session, it turned out to be more successful than I expected. Today I still feel grateful to the audience and colleagues who attended my panel. It was a very encouraging experience. 


AM: That’s wonderful to hear - and clearly that early encouragement has paid off. Tell me about your current role at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

DD: I am an assistant professor at UNC-Charlotte. My current job is a research-focused, tenure-track position. Our university is currently a R2 institution, but we are applying for the R1 status. However, our teaching load is similar to that of R1 universities. 


AM: Let’s talk about your current research. I know it’s been a few years, but could you give us an overview of your dissertation?

DD: My dissertation topic was the China-U.S. tea trade in the nineteenth century. My dissertation argues against two pervasive myths: 1) that the United States had become a coffee-drinking nation after the American Revolution and 2) that the Chinese only accepted silver as a means of payment. My research shows that American tea consumption did not decline until the turn of the 20th century, and sophisticated credit instruments facilitated de facto transactions in the tea trade without physical transfers of cash.


AM: Where are you in the process of turning your dissertation into a book and/or publications?

DD: I published a chapter of my manuscript as a journal article in Early American Studies. I am currently finishing up the last two chapters. I received replies from editors, who expressed their interests in my project, so I plan to send my manuscript to them this summer (2022). 


AM: Wonderful! And are you working on any other projects right now?

DD: Yes. I’m thinking of several projects about U.S. tea consumption and Chinese credit instruments that grow out of my current research, so I’m gathering information on them while continuing my current book project. 


AM: Having gone through the academic job market, especially as it’s changed in the last 2-3 years – what would you tell your past self?

DD: Looking back, I want to tell myself that I should learn from this valuable experience how to tell a story better. Instead of  expecting everyone to understand the value of my research, I should explain its significance to the audience more clearly and explicitly. This advice is not only for job market, but it is also useful for fellowship applications and publications.


AM: Do you have any advice for emerging scholars entering the field?

DD: I’m an emerging scholar entering the field. 

AM: Haha! Fair enough.

DD: I keep telling myself that the first several years after getting a job is a chance to start over. I have to learn everything from the very beginning. I have to remind myself not to panic if I don’t know how to deal with some issues, such as balancing the time for teaching and research and communicating with students, in the first several years. It’s not the end of the world.


AM: I think that’s pretty good advice no matter where you are in your scholarly career.  So, what are you reading these days? Whose work are you paying attention to / what work is the most exciting to you right now?

DD: I’m reading Kwang-Ching Liu’s Anglo-American Steamship Rivalry in China, 1862-1874 (1962) and Isabella M. Weber’s How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate (2021). One being a very old history book, the other most recently written by an economist, but both are very engaging and exciting. In the process, I feel like I’m learning how to write a book. I feel that no matter when or how books are written, basing arguments on solid evidence, rather than models or others’ theories, makes for better scholarly works. 


AM: Any last words for our audience? Where can we find you/your work?

DD: You can find my faculty profile here, and I am also on Academia.edu

AM: Great! Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me today.



This is part of a series of interviews with Emerging Scholars on H-Business. 

Because I’m away and not able to update these interviews in real time, some of their contents, particularly peoples’ current roles or positions, may be slightly outdated. In some cases, I may check back in for an update when I return, in August or September.

- Ashton Merck, H-Business Associate Editor