Department of History

Christopher Eirkson

  • Graduate Student

I received my BA from the State University of New York at Albany in the spring of 2011, where I studied Chinese history and language. My undergraduate honors thesis investigated the rapid social advancement of merchants in 14th-17th century China. In the spring of 2010 I studied Mandarin Chinese for four months in Beijing and visited the Gobi Desert, the Mongolian steppe, and the city of Hohhot in Inner Mongolia, PRC.

I entered the University of Pittsburgh History graduate program in autumn of 2011 and have since worked under the fantastic tutelage of Professor Evelyn Rawski. I also regularly consult with and receive valuable insight from Assistant Professor Vincent Leung.

My Master’s thesis traced the Chinese inheritance of Mongol military systems after the fall of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in the 14th century. It also looked at the extent to which the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) shaped its military policy, organization, and foreign affairs around Mongol military strength.

Teaching Experience:

Instructor, East Asian Civilization to 1800, Summer 2015
T.A., History of Russia to 1917, Fall 2013
T.A., Introduction to Islamic Civilization, Spring 2014

Representative Publications

“Ideas of Empire in Early-Modern Eurasia: Comparative Glances at China and Europe,” Carnegie Mellon University & University of Pittsburgh Joint Graduate Forum, 2016

“Borrowed Statecraft: Ethnic Law as a Yuan-Ming Connection, 1279-1368,” Harvard East Asia Society – Graduate Student Conference 19, 2016

“Steppe Ambitions: Early Ming Concepts of Empire and China’s Northern Frontier,” Mid-Atlantic Region of the Association of Asian Studies Conference, 2015

Research Interests

PhD Topic:
Provisional Title: “From Steppe to Mountains: Ming Borderlands and Ideas of Empire in the Early-Modern World”

Advisor: Evelyn Rawski

My dissertation investigates how emperors and statesmen in the early Ming Dynasty understood “empire” in relation to the northern Mongolian frontier and the early-modern world. I argue that the early Ming state (here roughly defined as 1368-1505) formed its imperial ambitions and strategies as a Mongol Yuan successor state. The Ming Dynasty did not simply inherit military systems from the Yuan, but also inherited a broad imperial worldview that informed early Ming imperial identity. This new interpretation questions modern historiography’s interpretation of the Ming as China’s last “native” dynasty.

Research Positions:

Researcher for Professor Patrick Manning, University of Pittsburgh on organizing and mapping various language families including Sino-Tibetan, Indo-Pacific, and Amerind, 2012-2013.