I would like to alert readers to a feature article in this week's edition of _the New Yorker_ magazine on a unique research project on the history of the Great Wall. The title of the article is "Walking the Wall: An Obsession with a Mythic Structure." The author is Peter Hessler. This article appears in the May 21 2007 issue of _the New Yorker_.
For several years now, a former classmate of mine from Dartmouth College named David Spindler ('89) has been conducting fieldwork and scholarly research on the history of the Great Wall. Specifically, his interest is in the walls built in the areas north of Beijing during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in order to protect the capital from Mongol raids.
Peter Hessler, bestselling author of the book _Rivertown: Two Years on the Yangtze_ (Harper Perrenial, 2001) and _Oracle Bones: A Journey between China's Past and Present_ (HarperCollins, 2006), has written an article on David and his Great Wall project which appears in this week's edition of the magazine. The article showcases David's work on the Great Wall, as well as tackling important academic issues that are of great relevance to all of us.
One issue that I think is very important in David's case is how independent scholarly research is integrated into the academic world. In this case, David has been working outside an academic framework for several years now, without any of the support that most of us take for granted. He has also enjoyed freedoms that most of us don't have, and has been able to pursue his project on his own without any definite time or publishing constraints. Another unique thing about David's work is that it combines intensive field research with equally intensive library and archival research. How many of us can claim to have spent over 600 days "in the field" researching our subjects, while also hitting all of the libraries and institutions in China, Japan, Taiwan, and the USA that contain books and documents relevant to our subjects of scholarly inquiry?
I hope that this article will generate some interest in the academic community on David's work. Until now, owing to the sensitive nature of his research, David has kept a very low profile, but with the publication of this article he will be "coming out."
For several years I have been following David's Great Wall research project and I have been on several hikes with him in the Beijing area. Last year I filmed David on several famous sections of the Great Wall, including Mutianyu, Gubeikou, Jinshanling, and Simatai (as well as a section beyond Badaling) discussing the history and functions of the Great Wall as a defensive structure against Mongol raids. I am in the final stages of completing a short film on this subject, which I would be happy to share with people who might offer constructive feedback on either David's project and/or my film. I am also looking for a distributor for this film.
FYI there are several entries on my Great Wall Journal regarding this film project and many photos of hikes with David on the Great Wall.