History Department
History Department

Ben Yeager


BA History, Centre College

Ben Yeager

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Interests


Maoist China, comparative studies of East Asia, state-building, group politics, intellectuals, propaganda, ideology, totalitarianism, foreign policy

Biography


Ben is a historian of East Asia with a research focus on Maoist China, especially the 1950s. His dissertation, "Knowledge Capital in Socialist China: The Politicking of Intellectuals, Cadres, and State, 1950-1959" explores the early political engagement of Chinese intellectuals immediately after the inception of the People's Republic. Drawing from archival research primarily in the city of Shanghai, "Knowledge Capital in Socialist China" suggests that both intellectuals and low-ranking party cadres were able to influence state policy and advocate for their collective interests in spite of the new regime's autocratic character. Ben sees the oppositional relationship between intellectuals and cadres--rather than solely the political whims of national political figures--as a powerful explanation of the political tumult during the first decade of the People's Republic.

Ben graduated with a BA in history from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Before coming to UT Austin, Ben spent a year living in Chongqing, China, where he taught English at Chongqing University of Technology while improving his Chinese on the side. He entered the graduate program at UT in the fall semester of 2015, completing his coursework in the spring of 2017 and passing his comprehensive examinations in the spring of 2018. He spent the fall of 2018 in Shanghai on a research trip, returning at the end of the year to begin work on his dissertation. Ben's experiences at Centre have imparted a passion for education that has continued through his graduate work. He has worked in UT's supplemental instruction program, given guest lectures, and conducted informal exam review sessions for students. 

Broadly, Ben is interested in challenging a political understanding of Communist China that has emphasized the supremacy of the state. Instead, he seeks to shift his focus to how groups and individuals were able to navigate the new political and social circumstances of the People's Republic, advance their interests, and secure their livelihoods. He hopes that his perspective on the historical agency of the Chinese people will continue to drive his research agenda forward.

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