MacArthur Fellows Program

Jonathan Dermot Spence

Historian | Class of 1988

New Haven, Connecticut
52 at time of award
Area of Focus
Asian History
Published August 1, 1988

About Jonathan's Work

Jonathan Spence is a historian of premodern and contemporary China, who combines narrative description and critical analysis to enable a vivid window into the Chinese past. 

His work integrates literary storytelling with original historical perspectives, creating a detailed and colorful narrative that seems to allow historical figures to speak with their own voices.  While a graduate student, Spence was the first scholar in the West to make use of the Qing secret memorials collected in the Palace Museum in Taiwan; his research was published as Ts’ao Yin and the K’ang-hsi Emperor: Bondservant and Master (1966).  Among his many books and edited volumes are Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-hsi (1974), The Death of Woman Wang (1978), The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (1985), The Question of Hu (1988), The Search for Modern China (1990); God’s Chinese Son (1996), Mao Zedong (1999) and Treason By the Book (2001).


Spence is the Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, where he has taught since 1965 and serves on the governing board of the Yale University Press.  He also served as president of the American Historical Association (2004-2005). 

Spence received a B.A. (1959) from the University of Cambridge and a Ph.D. (1965) from Yale University.

Last updated January 1, 2005.

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