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As director of the University at Buffalo’s Asian Studies Program and an associate professor of history, Kristin Stapleton has devoted many hours to educating the public about the region of the world that has long fascinated her.
Since joining UB in 2007, she has overseen the establishment of a Confucius Institute to promote the study of Chinese language and culture throughout Western New York. One of hundreds of such centers throughout the world, it is a partnership between UB, Capital Normal University in Beijing and the Chinese government, which supplies much of the funding. Plans include helping area school districts establish or expand Chinese language programs; offering language lessons and cultural orientation for travelers and groups such as trade delegations; organizing exchange programs; and building UB’s library holdings on China.
“Research universities should consider ways of making their expertise accessible to the community,” says Stapleton, who serves as the institute’s director and wrote the proposal to the Chinese government to bring the institute to UB. “It’s a primary function, it’s part of the mission. I’m excited about our expertise and I want to share it with the surrounding community.”
Stapleton’s outreach efforts have also included mentoring local teachers who participate in a training program that the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia offers in East Asian history and culture.
In 2009, she won a $172,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to strengthen South Asian studies at UB through initiatives that included student and faculty study tours of India over the 2009-10 winter break.
That Stapleton has racked up a long list of achievements at UB in a short time is no surprise. A graduate of Harvard University’s master’s and doctoral programs in history, Stapleton came to Buffalo after working for 14 years at the University of Kentucky, where she directed the Asia Center from 2002-05.
As she has in the past, Stapleton strikes a balance today between administrative duties, teaching and scholarship, with research focusing on how social institutions, political systems, cultural expectations and gender roles changed as China transitioned from an empire to a republic at the turn of the 20th century.
One current book project investigates the historical accuracy of characters and settings in “Family,” a famous Chinese novel that uses the story of an upper-class family in the city of Chengdu in the early 1900s to explore such issues as generational conflicts. Stapleton also is collaborating with colleagues around the world on a handbook on global cities, which will offer a comparative examination of global city development from early times to the present day.
Stapleton’s interest in urban history stemmed from her first travels to Asia in the 1980s. The contrast between the lively Taipei, Taiwan, where she studied abroad, and Detroit, the city closest to her hometown in Michigan, led her to wonder what makes a metropolitan area successful. Now, as an expert in the subject, people go to Stapleton for answers.
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