R. Keith Schoppa (1943–2022)
Historian of China
Keith Schoppa, the Edward and Catherine Doehler Professor of History emeritus at Loyola University Maryland, passed away on June 27, 2022. Keith, who taught at Loyola from 1998 to 2014, played a major role in shaping the university’s transition toward a more inclusive, global view of history and economics.
Keith lived and worked on a cotton farm in the Texas Panhandle until he left at age 18 for Valparaiso University. After Keith earned his bachelor’s degree in history, a fellowship to the University of Hawai'i’s East-West Center introduced him to a new academic interest and led to a master’s degree in East Asian history. This was followed by a PhD in modern Chinese history from the University of Michigan.
Although Keith’s Texas background seemed disconnected from his scholarly focus on the social and cultural history of China, his deep roots in his boyhood community informed his distinctive scholarship. Through an intensive study of Zhejiang Province, he produced a series of monographs that explored the social and cultural intricacies of modern China. The importance of home and place constituted a central interpretive insight that Keith used to elucidate topics ranging from the cultural significance of landscape to the traumatic experience of refugees uprooted during the Sino-Japanese War. His Zhejiang studies—which included Chinese Elites and Political Change: Zhejiang Province in the Early Twentieth Century (Harvard Univ. Press, 1982); Xiang Lake: Nine Centuries of Chinese Life (Yale Univ. Press, 1989; reissued 2002 as Song Full of Tears); Blood Road: The Mystery of Shen Dingyi in Revolutionary China (Univ. of California Press, 1995); and In a Sea of Bitterness: Refugees during the Sino-Japanese War (Harvard Univ. Press, 2011)—cemented his position as a leading historian of China. Blood Road received the 1997 Joseph Levenson Prize from the Association for Asian Studies. Keith also was a prolific author of textbooks, including Twentieth Century China: A History in Documents (Oxford Univ. Press, 2004) and Revolution and Its Past: Identities and Change in Modern Chinese History (Taylor and Francis, 2001). His last, and most recent, was also his broadest: The Twentieth Century: A World History (Oxford Univ. Press, 2021).
Deeply committed to teaching, Keith chose to make his career at institutions with a focus on undergraduate liberal arts. Keith taught at Valparaiso from 1968 to 1998, where he was the first to teach East Asian history courses and helped to establish an East Asian studies program. He chaired that program for 11 years and served as the history department chair for 19 years. While at Valparaiso, he received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1990 and was named the 1994 Indiana Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. At Loyola, he taught a range of courses, including surveys of modern China and Japan as well as a broader survey of modern East Asia (which became the basis for another textbook, East Asia: Identities and Change in the Modern World, published by Pearson in 2007). His course The Vietnam War through Film and Literature always had a long waiting list; students lucky enough to enroll were typically seniors. But Keith wanted to reach as many students as possible and requested to teach a mix of introductory and upper-level courses. Students praised the passion he brought to the classroom, and colleagues noted Keith’s joy when students began to understand the enormity of Chinese history.
Keith flourished at Loyola, enjoying a reduced teaching load and a community of engaged scholars. He retained his friendships from Valparaiso and gained many new ones in Baltimore. Along with his wife Beth, Keith enjoyed fine dining, the arts, and lively conversation. Keith combined uncompromising integrity as a scholar with a modest demeanor. He will be deeply missed.
Thomas R. Pegram
Loyola University Maryland (emeritus)
Loyola University Maryland (emerita)
Loyola University Maryland
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.
Please read our commenting and letters policy before submitting.