Judith Zeitlin

judith zeitlin
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Wieboldt 406
Research Interests: Ming-Qing literature, cultural history, and the arts, with specialties in Chinese opera and the classical tale.

My work combines literary history with other disciplines, such as performance, music, visual and material culture, medicine, gender studies, and film. I often joke that I’m a “ghostologist” since I’ve written so extensively on ghosts and still retain an active interest in the subject. My book The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature (2007), for instance, explores the representation of ghosts across the range of literary genres in the late Ming and early Qing, specifically the fantasy of a female corpse revived through love, the imagination of death through a ghostly poetic voice, the mourning of the historical past by the present, and the theatricality of the split between body and soul. I regularly teach an undergraduate Signature course--Topics in EALC: Ghosts and the Fantastic in Literature and Film (next slated to be taught in 2020-2021).

In recent years, my research and teaching have become increasingly oriented toward the performing and visual arts as way of engaging actively with all the senses, and not just texts, although close reading of texts remains a fundamental part of my scholarship and pedagogy. I co-curated an exhibition with a catalogue called Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture  at UChicago’s Smart Museum of Art in 2014


One of the best things about this project was collaborating with many current and former University of Chicago MA and PhD students, who contributed to the catalogue. In my projects and research, I’m always actively seeking to create opportunities for students to get involved.    

My interest in music, especially as related to opera, (Chinese and European) is driving much of my current research, creative projects, and collaborative endeavors. I’m completing a book on the culture of musical entertainment and its relationship to courtesans, opera, and material culture in early modern China. This book emerges out of research on the voice, musical instruments, and musical texts that I've been engaged in for the past decade. I’m on research leave this year 2019-2020 to work on it, with the support of an NEH fellowship. I’ll be at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing Sept-Jan; Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies Jan-Apr; and the Bogliasco Foundation in Italy, Apr-May.

I was the co-principal investigator (with Martha Feldman in Music) of an interdisciplinary faculty seminar on the voice under the auspices of the University of Chicago's Neubauer Collegium for Art and Society.

http://neubauercollegium.uchicago.edu/faculty/the_voice_project/. The result of this collaboration is a co-edited volume entitled The Voice as Something More: Essays Toward Materiality (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming fall 2019).The two of us also taught a Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation seminar on “Opera Film, China/Europe: Cases in Media Hybridity” last winter (2019).

Another musical project is a bigger leap for me: With the award of a Mellon grant from the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago, I’m collaborating with China-based contemporary composer Yao Chen to co-write an English-language opera called Ghost Village based on a Liaozhai tale. https://graycenter.uchicago.edu/experiments/ghost-village. The two of us taught an experimental seminar called “Literature of the Fantastic and Opera Adaptation” spring quarter 2018 during his residency in Chicago. (On the project, see a recent interview in The Portable Gray ---Noise and Nomads https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/toc/pog/current

Finally, I’m excited to be on the faculty of the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS), which offers a joint PhD with different graduate departments, including EALC, as well as being undergraduate major and offering a special track in MAPH. See https://arts.uchicago.edu/committee-theater-and-performance-studies

On August 28, 2015, I gave the Convocation Address at the University of Chicago's 524th Convocation, which you can read here.