I have been at Penn State University since 2002 teaching a broad range of courses on China, Tibet and a popular introduction to World History to 1500 inspired by  Neil MacGregor's History of the World in 100 Objects.  My recent research has focused on the Tibetan Muslims. Essays, articles and reports on this topic have appeared in Journal of Asian StudiesCahiers d’Extrême Asie, and Himalaya. My monograph, Islamic Shangri-la: Inter-Asian Relations and Lhasa's Muslim Communities, 1600-1960, has recently been published by the University of California Press (October 2018). This work is part of a broader re-examination of China's interaction and political interest in Tibet, Xinjiang and southwest China. My early research largely centered on the ethno-religious identity of the Muslim Chinese (or Hui) in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan culminating in the publication of The Chinese Sultanate: Islam, Ethnicity and the Panthay Rebellion in Southwestern China, 1856-1873 (Stanford University Press, 2006).


I have been a researcher or visiting scholar at the Academia Sinica's Institute of History and Philology, Yunnan University, at the Humboldt University (Berlin) and most recently in Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. I have received several fellowships including a Fulbright to the People's Republic of China (2007-08), a multi-year Mellon New Direction Fellowship and in 2015 a NEH FPIRI Fellow (administered by American Institute of Indian Studies). In response to the demand for specialized knowledge of China outside of academia, I was accepted as one of 20 individuals to serve in the fourth cohort (2014-16) in the National Committee of US-China Relations’ Public Intellectual Program. Currently (academic year 2020-21) I have been selected to serve as a resident fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C.


My commitment to teaching is not limited to my classroom instruction. Having lamented the lack of quality materials on Chinese history, I have worked with several publishers to contribute to scholarship that advances the teaching of Asian history.  I co-authored with Yurong Yang Atwill, Sources in Chinese History: Diverse Perspectives from 1644 to the Present (2010) -- with a 2nd edition currently in production with Routledge. In addition, I am currently completing a biography of the Chinese scholar-official Lin Zexu. Often presented as a stand-in for China’s putative xenophobia, Lin’s three decades-long career in China’s borderlands is testimony to a very different reality. Lin’s life opens a window onto the many global challenges Qing China faced in a rapidly changing world. Tentatively entitled Lin Zexu: Imperial China and a Globalizing World the manuscript is already under contract with Oxford University Press

For six years, I served as the Department of History's Director of Graduate Studies (2010-2014/2015-2017) and was awarded Graduate School Alumni Society Graduate Program Chair Leadership Award.  I teach courses at both the graduate and undergraduate level.


PhD, University of Hawai'i, 1999
MA, University of Hawai'i, 1994
BA, Whitman College, 1989

Fields of Research:  

Late Imperial, Republican, PRC China
Inter Asian History
Islam and Asia
Ethnic History (民族史)

© 2019 by David G. Atwill