tags: Top Young Historians
Henry Yu, 38
Teaching Position: Associate Professor, Department of History, and Department of Asian American Studies, UCLA; and Associate Professor of History, University of British Columbia
Area of Research: Migration in the U.S. and the Pacific region, the history of social science, Asian American history
Education: PhD. Princeton University, 1995
Major Publications: Thinking Orientals: Migration, Contact, and Exoticism in Modern America (Oxford, 2001).
Yu is finishing a book entitled How Tiger Woods Lost His Stripes and is currently working on a project rethinking how we understand migration in history.
Awards: Yu's book was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2001 and received the Norris and Carol Hundley Prize for Most Distinguished Book of 2001.
He was the Co-Director for a Ford Foundation funded project on reimagining Asian American and Pacific Islander American history, and in addition to a current Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Standard Research Grant for research on trans-Pacific Chinese migration, has held residential fellowships at Wesleyan University's Center for the Humanities, the University of California's Humanities Research Institute, and the Woodrow Wilson Society of Fellows at Princeton University.
Additional Info: For the last three years, Yu has taught at both UCLA and UBC, travelling back and forth between Los Angeles and Vancouver while researching and teaching about the history of trans-Pacific migrations, including a joint summer class that mixed students from both schools for six weeks while studying the effects of migration and eating their way through each city's best Asian cuisine.
I still can't quite believe that my "full time job" (in the words of my relatives), is to be a professional historian, since it involves spending inordinate amounts of time asking questions that pique my curiousity and then going out and finding answers to them. Most of my family (and many of my students I suspect), wonder why anyone should be paid to do something they so obviously enjoy, and the best parallel they can come up with is a professional hockey player or some athlete paid for something they would have done for free. Perhaps some of the joy, as well as the seriousness of purpose, I feel doing my work is tied to the nagging feeling that I better enjoy it while I can because the plug will be pulled at any time. The feeling of being an "imposter" has been there right from the moment I entered graduate school (I kept waiting for them to realize that they had mixed up the application files and needed to rescind my fellowship?), and it still has never quite left me.
When I was first interviewing for a job at UCLA, my on-campus interview was during the week after the big Northridge earthquake. I was enthusiastically in the midst of explaining something or another when an aftershock hit. I'm sure it seemed pretty minor to most Angelenos, especially in the wake of the larger quake, but as I was going on and on, I noticed that the trees outside the window were swaying. It took me a moment to realize that in fact it was not the trees that were moving but our building, and that I had been so engrossed in talking that what seemed to me a minor nuisance of shifting trees might be more worrying to other people in the room. One of my future colleagues (who did not grow up in Los Angeles) had somewhat jokingly brought a construction hard hat to the office that day, and she alternated between looking at it, at me, and at the relative sanctuary under the table. I was in the middle of what must have seemed to me at the time a rather important point (although I have no recollection now as to what it was), and so I did not immediately register that the longing look in her eyes reflected an interior struggle between slipping under the table, putting on the hat, or continuing to listen to me prattle on. I'm sure that she was not the only one in the audience constrained against their better instincts by politeness, but such was the depth of my monomanical desire to finish my point that the earth stopped before I did. Later on, after I had been offered the job, I learned that I had been attributed with some preternatural ability to remain cool under pressure, and that my obstinate prolixity in the midst of an earthquake signalled a good fit for a teaching job in Los Angeles. I was quite ecstatic to be getting such a wonderful job, of course, but I'm not sure if there are any lessons to be learned by job candidates from my experience, other than perhaps the unwarranted moral that believing passionately in what we do sometimes has its rewards?
By Henry Yu
About Henry Yu
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