Publication Date

May 1, 2023

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • Europe



Ethan Leong Yee is an assistant professor at Hunan University, Yuelu Academy. He lives in Changsha, Hunan Province, China and has been a member since 2018.

Ethan Leong Yee

Ethan Leong Yee

Alma maters: BA, University of California, Berkeley, 2010; MSt, University of Oxford, 2012; PhD, Columbia University, 2019

Fields of interest: medieval studies, religious studies

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?

I was interested in history from an early age. I was unsure about being a professional historian during college, and so I took a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school. I failed to get into a PhD program directly afterwards, so did a master’s degree while applying again, and I took seven years to finish the PhD afterwards. I failed to get a tenure-track job out of the doctoral program, so I did a one-year teaching postdoc at Wabash College, Indiana. In the meantime, I also applied for many tenure-track jobs that year, none of which I got, except my current job at Hunan University, in China. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was unable to enter China to start the job until the fall of 2021.

What do you like the most about where you live and work?

The students are the best thing about my current job.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am working on some articles about various topics in medieval European religion, such as indulgences, the religious meaning of wills and testaments, and penance. I hope, in the coming years, to turn my dissertation into a book as well.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?

Since graduation, my interests have remained in medieval European religious history, but having finished the dissertation, I am freer to pursue other topics not so closely linked to my doctoral work, on Franciscans and penance.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?

I once found in a 13th-century Italian indulgence document that had blanks for the name of the bishop, diocese, and church, signifying some sort of mass production for these documents.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

I recommend reading Caroline Walker Bynum’s book Holy Feast and Holy Fast. It may not be a recent book, but for those not familiar with medieval religious history, it is a good place to start to understand the complexities involved in explaining the spiritual practices of the period.

What do you value most about the history discipline?

I value most the ability of history to take us out of the narrow constraints of our own time, space, and culture and introduce us to the reality of a past that does not conform to our conceptions and can defy our expectations.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

Membership is important as a means of keeping track of larger trends in the profession as a whole.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association