Thomas Kelly

Assistant Professor of Pre-Modern Chinese Literature


I am a scholar of Chinese literature. My current research explores the relationship between the literary imagination and the act and materials of writing in the late imperial period.

My first book examines the lives of inscribed objects in early modern China, investigating practices of engraving literature onto solid things. I consider the paradox that seventeenth-century poets and calligraphers, amid rampant commodification and the destruction of inter-dynastic war, confronted fears of being dominated by, or reduced to things, by writing upon the surfaces of objects.

I am in the early stages of a new book-length project that explores the interplay between collections of ephemera and literature in the late imperial period. This study shows how ephemeral papers (handbills, flyers, adverts, tickets, receipts) at once haunt and came to define the ways novels, short stories, and plays conceive of their own durability. I demonstrate how ephemeral papers infiltrate well-known literary works, shaping new visions of quotidian sociality and time.

I am also currently completing a project entitled The Lives of Artists in Early Modern China based on annotated translations of Zhou Lianggong’s (1612–1672) two masterworks, Biographies of Seal Carvers and Records of Paintings I Have Seen.

I received my PhD from the University of Chicago in 2017 and BA from the University of Oxford in 2009. Before joining Harvard, I was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan. I am currently serving as the President of the Society for Ming Studies.