Olivia Humphrey, 2017 Humanities Out There Public Fellow

Olivia Humphrey applied her skills as a historian, along with an interest in publicly accessible scholarship, to establish the LARB China Channel.

My Humanities Out There Project involved working with the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB). Our main task was to take the well-established China blog hosted on the LARB website and  “upgrade” it into a fully-fledged LARB Channel. Generally speaking, LARB Channels are more rigorously maintained and updated, and have a clearer sense of vision than the blogs. Because I’m lucky enough to work with some very talented colleagues who had published on LARB’s website (e.g. this fantastic piece on Beijing Comrades by Sarah Mellors), I’d been aware of the platform for quite some time.

Maybe I’m now a bit biased, but the LA Review of Books represents one of my favourite forms of public history. It’s a place for beautiful writing and creative analysis, where every sort of visual medium and quirky topic can make for an excellent read. More to the point, working on a project that seeks to disseminate thoughtful and well-researched writings on China seemed both timely and important; as America looks fearfully over her shoulder at the economic competition, contemporary coverage of China in the mainstream media is depressingly prone to stereotypes and tactless generalizations. As someone whose PhD project is in Russian history, I felt a kindred sympathy.

In order to make the leap from China blog to China Channel, I worked alongside the History department’s Jeffrey Wasserstrom (and others ) to conceptualise what we wanted the China Channel to be and where it would fit in against other China-related online platforms. We battled the traffic up to LARB’s offices in downtown LA. We thought through productive collaborations and the structure of the future site, touching upon some fun but critical issues: Are podcasts the future? Should we have themed days, such as “throwback Thursday?” Then came the drafting and refining of the grant proposals – fingers crossed! Working on a geographical area outside of my own focus certainly involved using some new parts of my brain. In addition to editing, it was my job to give an “outsiders” perspective and to try make sure the content was accessible to everyone – one of the core tenants of being a good public historian.