Q&A with Professor Sophie Volpp, LMU-UCB Program Visiting Professor

person looking at camera
October 20, 2022
The Division of Arts & Humanities has a number of esteemed faculty who have participated in the LMU-UCB program for humanities research. In this series, we interview faculty who have had enriching experiences as part of a visiting professorship or fellow. In 2007, the University of California, Berkeley Division of Arts & Humanities and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU Munich) established a joint program to pursue innovative, collaborative research in the Humanities. The program facilitates academic exchange of faculty members, graduate students and postdocs in the areas of the Humanities.

Sophie Volpp, Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature

What LMU-UCB program did you participate in and how long was your stay abroad? 

I was with the Institute for Sinology at LMU on the faculty exchange program for two and a half months in summer 2022, from the end of May until just before our fall semester began here in Berkeley.  The schedules of the two universities are perfectly aligned in terms of this sort of exchange. The semester in Munich does not end until mid-August, so I had a full summer of being able to work with colleagues at LMU.

What research and work were you able to accomplish during your stay and how did the program help facilitate that work? 

I drafted a chapter of my book on Cao Xueqin’s mid-eighteenth century novel The Story of the Stone and delivered a lecture on the chapter.  That research benefited from the advice of LMU’s Qing dynasty historian, Max Oidtmann.  I also nearly finished an essay on the late-sixteenth century novel Plum in the Golden Vase,  which dealt in part with how the citation of early Chinese texts in this novel influences the reader’s reception of minor characters.  I was fortunate that LMU is very strong in early China; my research partner Hans van Ess definitely helped me up my game.  I’m hoping next year to organize a set of panels regarding contemporary theatrical revisions of classical texts in which Chiara Bocci and Anna Stecher from LMU could present.

What program benefits were most useful to accomplishing your academic and research pursuits? 

A new set of colleagues whom I loved talking to was the primary benefit.  A secondary benefit of being in Munich is that at talks and conferences, you meet scholars from all over Germany and other parts of Europe.  In my field, LMU has one of the strongest programs in Germany and indeed Europe. When I returned, I began planning a series of talks by scholars from different parts of Europe at our Center for Chinese Studies – I wanted to bring the benefits of the exchange to the whole community here.

For future faculty and postdocs interested in participating, what were some of the highlights? 

Beyond the academic benefits, Munich in the summer is so festive. The opera festival is in full swing. I saw some of the most memorable theater of my life, including a rendition of Odysseus’s return  staged in the courtyard of the Glyptothek, with the Parthenon frieze visible through the windows right beyond.  And I went backpacking from hut to hut in the German Alps through fog and rain – I hope to hike those routes again because I’d like to actually see the Alps next time.

Sophie Volpp is a professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature at U.C. Berkeley. A specialist in Chinese literature of the 16th through 19th centuries, Sophie is the author of Worldly Stage: Theatricality in Seventeenth-Century China (Harvard, 2011) and The Substance of Fiction: Literary Objects in China, 1550-1775 (Columbia, 2022). She has also translated the work of pre-modern women poets and dramatists. Sophie is currently writing a book entitled The Stone and the World about the figuration of referents in Cao Xueqin’s mid-eighteenth century novel The Story of the Stone.  In addition, she is researching the efforts of the National Peiping Library (now the National Library of China) to preserve their rare book collection during the Sino-Japanese war.  Her research has received support from the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation, and the UC Presidents’ Fellowship in the Humanities as well as the LMU-Berkeley fellowship. 
Sophie was a member of the Board of the Inter-University Program in Beijing and is on the Board of the 1990 Institute, an organization dedicated to educating the public about U.S.-China relations and combating anti-Asian hate. She was the founding director of the Huang program at U.C. Berkeley and chairs the Center for Chinese Studies.  She holds A.B., A.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University.