Early academic work on China was largely philological, but with the Post-War rise of theory-dominated area studies in the U.S., the dominant mission became the discovery of broad social, political, and intellectual structures that shaped various aspects of historical and modern experience, and more narrowly philological “sinology” came to be widely viewed as a diversion, unless in the service of some broader point. This was as true of the field of ancient Chinese thought, in which I trained, as it was of the contemporary social science fields. Things change, and over the past quarter century philological and even antiquarian scholarship has reemerged, and is once again a major driver in the field. Having trained in the Post-War context, I have found this erosion of a simple, guiding theoretical orthodoxy by ever more demanding displays of technical skill to be an alarming context of career confusion, out of which, hopefully, enough interesting observations can be extracted to constitute this talk.
Bob Eno has been a member of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at IU Bloomington since 1985, and an adjunct faculty member in Philosophy and, later, in History. His research focus over the past decade has been on the sixth and fifth century BCE historical origins of the “school of Confucius,” but his most recent projects have dealt with bronze inscriptions of the Western Zhou era (1045-771 BCE).