Rethinking Narrative History: ALL’s Newest Faculty Member Ning Ma
Associate Professor Ning Ma is the newest member of the faculty in Asian languages and literatures (ALL). Her unique educational background and research activities make her a brilliant addition to the department. “I’m really excited by the expansiveness of her research,” says department chair Christine Marran. “Her discussion of economic globalization in a comparative literary context in her book The Age of Silver drew us to her work. I’m so glad that she decided to join us here in ALL.”
Ma’s fascination with literature and the humanities led her to pursue a degree in English language and literature, which she received from Beijing University in 2000. The native of Beijing was inspired by her undergraduate studies to venture to the United States to take part in the comparative literature master’s program at Rutgers University. While at Rutgers, she was given the opportunity to sit in a few classes taught by Andrew Plaks, Professor of East Asian studies and comparative literature at Princeton.
“I was really inspired by his classes,” she says. “I think it’s really interesting to think about my own literary and cultural heritage from a comparative perspective.” Upon completion of her master’s program, she decided to pursue a PhD at Princeton with Professor Plaks and shifted her area of study from critical theory and contemporary American and European literature to Chinese literary history. She received her PhD in 2008 and taught at Tufts University until joining the University of Minnesota this past fall.
Ma’s research largely revolves around developing a comparative perspective on the vernacular novels of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368–1912). “Traditionally, people approach these novels with more of a historicist approach . . . almost like they are doing detective work to discover information about them,” she explains. “I’m trying to get people to rethink narrative history and bring greater scholarly attention to these novels by theorizing about the historical meanings within them.” She is passionate about discovering what is being excluded from the dominant theory regarding literary modernity. “I feel very lucky to be a part of ALL’s collaborative environment,” Ma says. “It is very supportive to my research efforts.”
Ma is excited about the new opportunities she has as a faculty member of ALL, such as teaching and advising graduate students and directing the Chinese Flagship program. She recognizes the importance of creating a strong and personalized learning environment for Chinese language and cultural studies, especially within a large school like the University of Minnesota. She currently teaches a class called Martial Arts in Chinese Literature and Film and will be teaching another on adaptations of the Monkey King legend across different times and cultures next semester. “I develop a lot of my thinking through teaching,” she says. “I learn with my students. I give my vision to them, and they contribute their knowledge and ideas to me.”