Xi WangXi Wang, 2022–23 Distinguished University Professor

Xi Wang, professor of history at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has been selected as IUP’s 2022–23 Distinguished University Professor.

About Xi Wang

Wang has been a faculty member in the IUP Department of History since 1994 and served as chair of the department from 2005 to 2008. His teaching focus is African American history, nineteenth-century United States history, and the history of American constitutionalism.

He was recognized by the Distinguished University Professor selection committee for his “commitment to the teaching and mentoring of current and former students, abundant and outstanding service, and meaningful and extensive scholarship.”

“Dr. Wang exemplifies the teacher-scholar model,” IUP President Michael Driscoll said. “He is a well-respected author and researcher, an expert in his field, and his service to the university beyond his academic scholarship and commitment to mentoring students is outstanding.

“The Distinguished University Professor is one of the highest recognitions offered by this university, and Dr. Wang is very deserving of this honor.”

As part of the Distinguished University Professor nomination, recipients propose an academic project that they plan to complete during the year they are selected for the honor. Wang plans to create a new course at IUP focusing on US immigration history and to complete a book manuscript, tentatively titled “Make Every Freeman a Voter”: The American Story of Black Suffrage.

“I am absolutely honored to be able to join my predecessors, who have set up a very high standard for Distinguished University Professorship at IUP. It has been my good fortune to have landed at IUP, where I have been nurtured to grow steadily, intellectually, and professionally, with the unreserved support of my colleagues and endless inspirations from my students.  

“I feel extremely lucky to be able to conduct my transnational scholarship on American history in challenging times and do hope my new book project will help people in both the United States and China to gain a deeper understanding of the strengths and complexity of American democracy,” Wang said.

Wang is the author of 16 books (monographs, edited volumes, and translations combined), including two that are forthcoming, and more than 70 peer-reviewed and invited articles and book chapters, in English and Chinese, on a wide range of topics, including African American history, Civil War and Reconstruction, American constitutionalism, and public history.

He has established a solid national and international reputation in the fields of African American history and Civil War and Reconstruction, and his work continues to be in the news. Most recently, he was featured in a July 2021 New York Times article’s discussion of the value of his Trial of Democracy: Northern Republicans and Blacks Suffrage, 1860–1910, first published in 1997, as well as the sixth reprint in China of his Principles and Compromises: The Spirit and Practice of the American Constitution (expanded edition published in 2014), which remains a standard for Chinese academia to understand the working of the American constitutional system.

His articles on American citizenship, multiculturalism, public history, and American political culture, published in top-notch academic journals, are frequently used as model writing, for both content and style, in graduate training in history and American studies throughout China.

As a member of the task force appointed by the Organization of American Historians, he played a leading role in helping to create the six-year (2013–19) partnership between American and Chinese historians, sponsored by Ford Foundation’s two grants of $400,000, that sent 18 American historians to conduct summer institutes on US history in China and brought 18 Chinese scholars to the United States to conduct research on American history, substantially reshaping the themes and research methods of China’s American studies. 

One of his most prominent services for the field of history has been the creation of the Chinese Historical Review, a peer-reviewed, biannual academic journal of history. He served as editor-in-chief of the publication for 12 years (2003–14), working with History Department colleague Alan Baumler and Hanchao Lu of the Georgia Institute of Technology. The journal, highly regarded internationally, is currently published by Routledge.

Wang also has been an invited presenter for more than 50 regional, national, and international conferences and meetings.

His service to IUP includes serving on various university and departmental committees, including ones that have developed new programs. He was the coordinator of the Asian Studies Committee that established the Asian Studies minor, which laid the foundation for the Asian Studies bachelor of arts program. He is a founding member of the Pan-African Studies Committee that established the Pan-African Studies minor.

He coordinated and organized a number of conferences and events in his field at IUP, including the 27th Black History Conference of Pennsylvania. He also has initiated university-wide public lectures given by prominent scholars and has volunteered to provide talks to various student and community organizations on topics that link contemporary affairs to history.

He established a sister school partnership between IUP and Hebei University (HBU), China, in 2014, which has created opportunities for nearly 30 HBU faculty members to come to IUP to study and for eight IUP historians to go to Baoding, China, to attend an international conference. The proceedings of the conference, published under the title “Trans-Pacific Conversions: Doing History in a Global Age,” contains 14 articles from IUP historians. His service as a member of the International Committee of the Organization of American Historians has helped to shape China’s American studies programs internationally and has put IUP on the map of a major national professional organization.

In addition to his courses within the department, he is the instructor for the junior core course for the Cook Honors College. His expertise in African American history and Chinese language has enabled him to serve as reader for at least three doctoral dissertations from the English Department. Using a transnational network, in 2019, he worked to help Daniel Wethli, an IUP philosophy and Asian studies major, to secure Jianghan University as his host institution in China so that he could receive a Fulbright scholarship, the sixteenth received by an IUP undergraduate student.  

While his scholarship continues to generate international recognition, he remains focused on teaching and mentoring students.

“My greatest accomplishment in my teaching at IUP lies with my teaching of History 196, a Liberal Studies history requirement,” he said. “This is the class where I meet the greatest number of IUP students and can make an impact on their learning experience at IUP. I have been teaching the course since my day one at IUP, and it has grown to be my most beloved class to teach. Nonmajors, diverse academic backgrounds, lack of incentives and interest (since this is a requirement rather than an elective)—students in this course always present a great challenge to me. I take this challenge not as the best opportunity to convert students into history majors (I would if they want to), but to make them interested in historical inquiry and learning,” he said.

“In the past few years, I have used ‘African American history from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement’ as the theme for my course sections, aiming at offering students a chance to learn about how race relations in the United States have evolved historically and how such evolution has shaped the American history in general. One of the assignments I designed was an oral history project—asking students to interview a relative or friend on how she or he had acquired the concept of ‘race.’ Many students responded positively that how the assignment had made them think a lot about history as never before. If my teaching could inspire students to think deeply, seriously, and critically, I would consider it an accomplishment.”

His proposed project during the next academic year, to develop a new course focusing on US immigration history, would be part of the Liberal Studies curriculum.

“The main objective of the course is to assist students in gaining a historical literacy on the subject; familiarizing themselves with the use of race, gender, class, ethnicity, citizenship, transnationalism, interplay of power and rights, and other analytic concepts in their analysis; learning to use multiple points of view in their arguments; and acquiring a more nuanced interpretation about the causation, process, and impact of American immigration,” he said. He expects that the course would begin to be offered in fall 2023 or spring 2024.

His manuscript project comes from a 2021 invitation from the Peking University Press to publish a Chinese translation of his The Trial of Democracy: Black Suffrage and Northern Republicans, 1860–1910. Instead of a reprint, Wang will be writing an expanded study of Black suffrage based on additional research and a more comprehensive framework.

“A new study on the history of Black suffrage, with the same intellectual rigor but a broader coverage, is needed for Chinese readers to truly understand and appreciate the spirit, perseverance, faith, and courage with which African Americans had evolved from enslaved persons to enfranchised citizens,” he said. “Only an epic-style study on this subject can accurately document the hardship and perseverance, frustrations and resilience, and brutality and heroism involved in this long struggle, jointly fought by Black and White Americans, to achieve interracial democracy in the United States.”

Wang completed his bachelor’s degree at Hebei University, China, his master’s degree at the University of Denver, and his doctoral degree at Columbia University. He was a predoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester’s Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies and did postdoctoral studies at Harvard University’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research.