【International Scholar】 UPenn Librarian and Professor, Dr. Brian Vivier Searches for the Best Chinese Historical Resources
About the OIA Investigation Bureau
For many international scholars, off-site research is the most effective way of learning and growing. Every year, NTU hosts international scholars from many different universities and research institutes. But what exactly is it that these scholars do at NTU? What kind of experiences do they have? How do these scholars grow to love and appreciate NTU? The OIA Investigation Bureau is here to solve the mystery of international scholars at NTU!
Case Subject Introduction
Philadelphia-raised Dr. Brian Vivier is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Chinese Studies and the Chinese Studies Librarian at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). His research focuses on tenth to thirteenth century Chinese History, analyzing the cultural exchanges between the Song Dynasty and their northern neighbors, namely the Liao and Jin Dynasties. Dr. Vivier explores how the dissemination of knowledge and information shaped the perception of China and Inner Asia at that time and for future generations.
From 2001 to 2002, Brian studied Mandarin Chinese at NTU’s International Chinese Language Program (ICLP). Ten years later in 2012, he would return NTU as a visiting scholar invited by the Department of History. Now, he has returned to Taiwan after being awarded a grant through the Fulbright Program. He was specially invited by his graduate school classmate and current professor in the Department of History at NTU, Professor Hsu Ya-Hwei. In addition to having regular discussions with Professor Hsu about research, Brian also spends much time at the main library, utilizing NTU’s vast resources. He speaks both Chinese and Japanese fluently, and often analyzes classical Chinese for his research. Recently, his passion for Taiwan has also encouraged him to start learning Taiwanese.
Applying a Background in Chinese History and Library Studies to Research Song Dynasty Culture of Information Dissemination.
In addition to his master’s in Library and Information Science from Southern Connecticut State University, Dr. Vivier also holds two graduate degrees from Yale University: a master’s in East Asian Studies, and PhD in History. He currently serves both as the Coordinator of Area Studies and the Chinese Studies Librarian at the University of Pennsylvania. There he is in charge of allocating an area studies collection budget of 1.5 million USD every year, as well as managing the collection of Chinese Studies books and electronic resources on campus. In addition to being a professional librarian, Brian is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at UPenn. His current research focuses on the dissemination of information and knowledge during the Song Dynasty, and how this influences their relationships with their northern neighbors.
When choosing his research area, rather than following his classmates’ choice and the more familiar path of Euro-American History, Brian chose to study Chinese History. He now focuses on the tenth to thirteenth century Song Dynasty, which is a time period full of social reformations and diverse cultural developments. It is one of the most prosperous times of Chinese History, in terms of economy, technology, and culture. This miraculous and curious period has long inspired Brian’s curiosity. After many years of researching the Song Dynasty’s vast trade network, Brian shifted his focus to the flow of information between different cultures and regions. He analyzes how people of that time filtered and confirmed information, and how they spread that knowledge once those choices were made. Moreover, what does this filtering and disseminating of knowledge reveal about societies, politics, and cultures at the time. In his own words, his current research, “analyzes the ways in which information about the Liao and Jin dynasties was generated and transmitted while [the Song Dynasty] was in power. These specific paths of selection, compilation, and preservation shape our interpretations of China and Inner Asia between the tenth and thirteenth centuries.”
The Inspiration of a Different Research Approach
In August 2021, Brian arrived at the NTU Department of History on a Fulbright Program Grant. Nearly ten years before, in 2012, Brian was a guest of the department. Both of these times he was welcomed by Professor Hsu Ya-Hwei; the two were classmates during their doctoral studies at Yale, and have been good friends ever since. While Brian’s main research sources are texts, Professor Hsu’s are historical relics. Although their research methods differ, they both focus on the Song Dynasty period, so they are able to offer each other different perspectives and inspirations. Even though most humanitarian scholars focus on individual research, Professor Hsu believes that if there is a suitable research topic in the future, she and Brian may apply for an international cooperative research program.
Apart from discussing research with Professor Hsu, Brian also works with a teacher who specializes in classical Chinese that he met during his first visit to Taiwan. In 2001, after Brian graduated from his master’s program at Yale, he come to what is known as the best place in the world to study Chinese: The International Chinese Language Program at NTU. It was there that he met his classical Chinese teacher and mentor. Twenty years later, he continues to study ancient Chinese and Taiwanese culture with her.
NTU Library: The Study of a Historian
After beginning his work at UPenn in 2011, Brian has come to Taiwan almost every year due to the many precious sources for Chinese Studies here. From the National Palace Museum, to the National Central Library and National Taiwan Library, there are countless research materials. Furthermore, the NTU Library has the largest collection or sources of any university in Taiwan, and it serves as Brian’s study. As a librarian, he also pays attention to how NTU is digitizing rare ancient books and media collections into a large database.
Close to Brian’s home in Taiwan, hidden in an apartment building on Jinshan South Road, is the Lexis Book Company, the leading academic bookstore in Taiwan. Holding an impressive collection, the Lexis Book Company has books across all academic fields, from business, to philosophy, to history. Their main customers are not the general public, but university libraries around the world. As a librarian of the University of Pennsylvania, Brian often searches for books there.
Looking to the Future: Deepening Connections with NTU
Brian has personally witnessed the last twenty years of changes in Taiwan. Twenty years ago, Taipei 101 was not yet finished, the HSR had only just begun construction, and the Taipei MRT only had three lines. Every time Brian has visited Taiwan, there are new innovations. He hopes his research can be like Taiwan in this way: always moving forward. He also looks forward to an even deeper connection with NTU in the future.