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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Emeritus Reader in Chinese History
East Asian Studies
Email address: 

Joe McDermott first received a B.A. in English (Honours) from Yale University (1967) and then discovered sinology. He subsequently received a B.A. in Chinese Studies from the University of Oxford in 1970 and a PhD in Chinese History from the University of Cambridge in 1979. He lived and worked in Japan for sixteen years altogether (including teaching at the International Christian University in Tokyo in the 1980s) before joining the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (then called Faculty of Oriental Studies) at the University of Cambridge in 1990. After having taught in the Faculty for twenty five years Dr McDermott retired in 2015 as Emeritus Reader in Chinese History. He is maintaining an active research programme, finishing up several book projects and starting a few new ones.

Research Interests

Dr Joe P. McDermott has a broad interest in Chinese social, economic, and cultural history, mainly during the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties (1000-1700). At times he has researched the art history and book history of these periods, but he has usually focused on the social and economic history of China, initially in rural areas but in recent years more and more on the commercial and financial institutions of late imperial China. This recent interest derives from his study of the exceptionally rich historical records of the Huizhou area of southern Anhui Province, the home of south China's richest merchants during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Dr McDermott's current projects include: (1) A study of Chinese Jesuits in France and China from 1750 to 1815; (2) Continuing study of Huizhou, partly through examining two groups at the bottom end of the local social hierarchy: the men who were bondservants and the women who were concubines; (3) Suzhou City, pre-1644 and post-1644; (4) Hereditary Book Collecting Families in the Lower Yangzi Delta from 1550 to 1950; (5) The Growth of Financial Institutions and Groups in China, 1400 to 1900.

Dr McDermott recently co-organised a summer workshop (September 2016) dedicated to training young scholars in using primary documents to study late-imperial local society. Here is the link to the website for the workshop.

Other Professional Activities

Regional Editor of International Journal of Asian Studies.

Honorary Curator of the Tōyō Bunko, Tokyo

Member of External Review Committee for the Institute of Oriental Culture.

Member Of Higher Education Research Assessment Committee of Hong Kong, 2014