Jonathan Lipman

Citation for 2002 Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

The professor walks in at 8:30 a.m., unrolls a large map, and the magic unfolds. The students, wide awake despite the hour, listen with rapt attention as Jonathan Lipman lectures on the Central Asia of Genghis Khan, the life of a working woman in modern China, the role of intellectuals in the Chinese revolution, or Japan in World War II. The lecture is brilliant, witty, provocative, entirely fascinating -- but it is not long before it makes way for an animated, thoughtful discussion, involving the entire class.

For Jon a class meeting such as this is a quotidian affair, but we, his students and colleagues, know just how remarkable his achievement is. It lies not only in the stunning range of his courses, which cover great stretches of time and vast spaces on the map of Asia. Nor is it simply that he has awakened the enthusiasm of generations of students to the history and cultures of China, Japan, and Korea. His excellence as a teacher is discernible equally in the care, attention, and skill he devotes to his work.

Students describe the experience of taking a course with him as a series of exciting challenges. Given their subject matter, it might seem tautologous to say that his courses help students to view the world from whole new perspectives. The fact is that, in Jon's classroom, even students who have a first-hand knowledge of China and Chinese culture find their preconceived ideas challenged, always to their astonishment and delight. "I will never again categorize 'China' or 'Chinese.'" is a typical comment. But it is not cultural preconceptions alone that are challenged. A student who takes a course with him emerges a better thinker and writer. First, through the fascinating and wonderfully diverse readings that he assigns, she is made to grapple with multiple---often diametrically opposed---points of view on a subject. She learns to sift and weigh evidence and evaluate arguments. Second, in several short writing assignments, with his rigorous but always constructive mentoring, she hones her skills in writing clearly, critically and precisely. "I have never made so many graphs and charts to help see connections between the things I was learning;" "I no longer go off in pursuit of wild trains of thought, neglecting evidence and argument." says one student, of the writing assignments, while another exclaims, "Even writer's cramp did not discourage me." In short, he helps students see the process of learning for the great adventure it is, and masterfully draws them into it. Students come to Jon's classes to learn about Asia. At the end of the course, however, they find themselves fascinated, not only with Chinese or Japanese history, but with the discipline of history itself. As one student put it, "He speaks as though he were living through the people and events we read about, and that makes history come alive for us."

Jon inspires his students with his eloquence, his passion for learning, and his prodigious knowledge of Asia, which is based on his command not only of Asian history, but of an impressive number of Asian languages. Students who take Jon's courses look forward to his brilliant lectures. At the same time, however, they cherish him for being a wonderful listener. They know that no question or idea they voice will be ignored or rejected, and that he is always available to continue the conversation outside of class.

Jon carries his skill in teaching well beyond the field of Asian Studies and beyond the gates of Mount Holyoke College. We have all benefited from his leadership in the development of the Mellon comparative seminar and the course on nationalism, and his many contributions to ongoing debates on the curriculum. Very few at Mount Holyoke know, however, of his other lives: as the winner of a major grant for faculty development in East Asian Studies at the Five Colleges, and as an active participant in the Five College Outreach and High School partnership in Western Massachusetts. Equally impressive is Jon's dedicated leadership of the project to help high school, community college, and college faculty nation-wide learn how to teach Asian culture and history. When not in a Mount Holyoke classroom, he very likely can be found talking to them about "Teaching about China" or "Teaching and De-centering the Twentieth-Century World."

We celebrate Jonathan Lipman, who instructs us and inspires us with his stellar example.