Dr Shirley Ye

Dr Shirley Ye

Department of History
Lecturer in Asian History

I am a global historian. I primarily research and teach the history of China.


  • PhD, Harvard University
  • MA, New York University
  • BA, University of California, Berkeley


Born in Hong Kong to parents from Sichuan, China, and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California, I joined the History faculty at the University of Birmingham in 2013 after my completing my PhD at Harvard University. My first book project Engineering the Environment examines the new institutionalization and knowledge production of water control during the late imperial and modern periods. 

In my spare time, I like reading novels and taking walks with my husband and little boy.


My teaching encompasses politics and protest, environment and economy, gender and women, historiography, and law and society in imperial and modern China. My pedagogy draws on the social sciences and cultural studies to show how different approaches can help us understand the past. In seminars, I foster an environment in which students develop the confidence to express their views and question the historical past and approaches to its study.

Postgraduate supervision

Previous MA thesis topics that I have co-supervised include Sino-British economic relations and a comparative study of Roman imperial cults and Japanese overseas shrines.

I welcome inquiries from students on PhD supervision on China, East Asia, and the wider world in any time period. Current PhD topics I am co-supervising include postcolonial urban architecture and memory in Hong Kong (funded by AHRC Midlands 3 Cities Consortium), and the public history and memory of World War Two in China.

Dr Ye would be happy to offer postgraduate supervision on any aspect of modern China.

Find out more - our PhD History  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


I research the history of China, with a focus on tensions between environmental conservation and economic development through the lens of state-society relations. My research looks at the interplay between traditional and modern techniques and management of hydraulic projects in China's treaty ports, the Grand Canal, the Yangzi River, and in the Guanzhong region of Shaanxi during the early 20th century. Part of my training is in global history, in particular German and US history, and the historiographical debates of those fields inform my work in Chinese and global history. I am starting a research project about insurance and risk in China's global trade from the 18th century to the present.

Committed to multi-lingual and multi-archival research, I have worked in archives and libraries in China, Taiwan, USA, Germany, Britain, and France.

My research has been supported by major national and international funding awards. In 2014, I was awarded the British Academy / Leverhulme Small Research Grant. My past awards include the Fulbright-IIE, DAAD, Fulbright-Hays DDRA, and the Taiwan Fellowship by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

I have been invited to discuss my research with audiences in China, Taiwan, Germany, Norway, the United States, and Britain. I have been a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the Department of History at Peking University, and the Institute of Modern History at Academia Sinica.

Other activities

I was the director of the Global China: New Approaches lecture series with Professor Hans van de Ven of Cambridge. Funded by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, the series consisted of six public lectures which took place 2014-15.