Interview with a Researcher: Jane Chang

Posted May 10, 2024 in General

Interview with a Researcher: Jane Chang

This interview marks the fourth in a new series where we meet with a user of the Moravian Archives to discuss their unique experience working with our collections in Bethlehem. In April 2024, we sat down with Jane Chang to discuss her ongoing Ph.D. research, the history of science and the coziness of the MAB reading room, among other topics.

Tom McCullough (TM): Jane, it’s so good to have you with us today. Frequent visitor to the Moravian Archives, recipient of the Vernon H. Nelson Research Grant, current student, could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Jane Chang (JC): Yeah, so I’m Jane, as you introduced. I am a Ph.D. candidate in my fifth year at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, doing it in German—well, technically, European History—but I focus on German history, specifically the history of science. I also dabble in a bit of the history of medicine and environmental history. Before I started doing my Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee, I did my master’s in a small little town called Regensburg, Germany. It’s in Bavaria. It’s about an hour and a half train ride to Munich. Before that I did my undergraduate studies at Emory University, where I double-majored in biology and history, because—fun fact—I was actually studying to become a doctor. That’s why I have that second degree in biology, because I did all the prerequisites to enter medical school, took the MCAT and everything. I actually did pretty well, too. And then my junior year I just realized nah, it’s…science, it’s not for me. It had an impact on my mental health, but the thing that actually “saved me” was this junior colloquium/seminar on German and British reactions to the French Revolution. And I had so much fun, like it really roused me out of my depression stupor, with reading specifically Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke and the little clashes they had. It was so great, it was so great. I wrote a paper on it. I really enjoyed writing that paper, and I was like, wow, I really enjoy history, but I probably should have known this, because even in high school I was really, really big into my history classes. I was really, really close to my teachers in high school, so yeah, I guess it was just meant to be.

TM: Wow, that is fantastic, and I’m glad you came back to the dark side with us historians. Or no, no. The light! I mean were are delighted to have you in the history fold. How did you go from Thomas Paine to the Moravians? How do they come into the picture?

JC: Okay, let’s see. Oh, right. It actually took a little while, because I was interested in British history, but then my advisor at Emory was—is—a German historian. His name is Brian Vick. He’s a “big cheese,” I’d say. I don’t know, I guess I really liked his books and the readings we were assigned in class, which were a lot of German texts like Schiller and Immanuel Kant. So I was just like, okay, I want to learn more about this. And then the reason I did my master’s is because since I did so much science coursework, I didn’t really have the language prerequisite in German so we just—my advisor and I—decided that doing a master’s would be good, and, you know it was going to be free there. But when I was in Regensburg, I actually focused a lot on environmental history, so I wrote my master’s on Alexander von Humboldt or—actually—there was a person who was a diplomat to Italy who was like a big environmentalist and sort of like—I call it—a hybrid between Alexander Humboldt and Henry David Thoreau: George Perkins Marsh was his name! So, yeah, I did my master’s thesis on that and then how I came to the Moravians? Ah, yes. I actually encountered them in my first Ph.D. class at the University of Tennessee. All first-years have to take this theory class. I don’t remember the exact book, but I remember we had a joke because we were taught about the Moravians’ sort of emphasis on like the blood and like the injuries of Christ…my cohort specifically, that really resonated with us. So for the longest time on our group chat was called “Christ’s Wounds and Blood.” I didn’t encounter Moravians until I took that course. After that, I encountered Zinzendorf, and he was a very interesting figure. I started from there, from Zinzendorf, but didn’t really want to look into Zinzendorf, because there was quite a lot written about him. I learned that the Moravians had a really bureaucratic structure, they left behind a huge documentary record, so I was like okay, this sounds cool, this sounds cool. In literature they, especially historians, tended to argue that Moravians were more in tune with the people they proselytized, like Native Americans and Black people in general, enslaved and free. So I was like, oh, this is the type of group that I want to look at, because I’m very interested in like subaltern groups; you know, in women, especially Indigenous communities, and Black people (see Jane’s master’s thesis here).

TM: Very cool. You mentioned the Moravians leaving behind a big heap of documentary evidence or documentary records. Can you tell us a little bit about your research journey at the Moravian Archives? How did you first learn of the Archives?

JC: So whenever you read like a monograph on anything related to the Moravians, in the acknowledgements they’re always thanking the Moravian Archives. Although fun fact—I didn’t know—there’s actually two Moravian Archives: one in Winston-Salem and then the one in Bethlehem. The reason why I was more focused on the one in Pennsylvania is because—since my dissertation focuses on German settlers during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—I decided, okay, I think it would be better if I relegated my research mainly to Bethlehem. And then I visited, had a great time with you. You showed me a lot of great initial stuff when I first came back in the last winter I believe—no, last summer. I came back again during the winter. My first visit wasn’t as successful, but I think it was because I was juggling my obligations with like the American Philosophical Society, and also didn’t have a car, so that made it difficult, as well. But then when I came back in the winter, I really obtained some really, really great material. I’m literally working on my chapter based on the material I obtained in the winter. This is not to say that my summer research wasn’t fruitful; it was really just preliminary findings.

TM: You mentioned, you know, finding some pretty good material for your chapter right now. Did you have, when you were working in the archives did you have a special eureka moment or another similar moment where you realized something was really valuable to your research?

JC: Yeah, so there were there actually two sources that I want to bring up. So the first one was like literally right in my ballpark. It’s the Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus “Book of Instructions,” which is basically a recipe book, but it’s not only relegated to medical recipes and healing remedies; it also has hunting and fishing techniques, sort of some agricultural practices, as well, in addition to industrial, entrepreneurial processes. It’s just kind of a jack of all trades, but I was more interested in some of the healing remedies. And then Pyrlaeus himself has a very interesting background, so I guess, in addition to the sort of recipe book that he left behind, which was like a very interesting combination of this sort of mystical ideas, although it’s predominantly more based in not-so-magical qualities, but there is a little bit inherent in it, which was sort of like the folk sort of remedies I guess one can associate but at the same time it was, it’s also rooted in some rationality, or I guess one can say, the sciences.

Detail from Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus’s “Memoranda book of diferend [sic] things wich [sic] belongs [sic] to me John Ch. Pyrlaeus,” ca. 1740s, CongLib 195, Library Collection, Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA.

Pyrlaeus is interesting in particular because he came to America, he was ordained by Zinzendorf, served as a minister in Philadelphia, he had a wife, at a time. And he also was a missionary in Pennsylvania. Then he had, I think, two children when he was in America. And then the Moravian Church was like, “hey, we need you to go to Britain to go minister there,” so he and his wife went to London, I believe, or somewhere else in Britain, and he left his kids behind in America. It was like two or three kids, and he never came back to see them. I’m not even sure if he ever maintained contact with them. I think he did the same thing that he did in America when he went to Britain, and then he was called back to Germany/Central Europe, and he also left his kids in Britain. I was thinking, “bro, you’re a terrible parent.” Yeah, I’m not actually sure if he maintained connections back with his children when he was back in the Old World, so I feel bad for the children; that kind of hurts my heart.

TM: It might be something that’s consistent with missionary practices where there’s a settlement community that raises the children and then—at least in Bethlehem—children often don’t end up living with their parents for the first twenty years. So maybe if someone served in a mission area, they might have left their children there. In Pyrlaeus’s case, doing it twice is kind of interesting.

JC: Exactly, twenty years is a long time. I know in the beginning they were like “here you go, go to your choirs, have fun!” I figured like once they hit twelve or thirteen years of age, but I guess it’s not always the case. Okay, yes, so that’s Pyrlaeus. And then the second eureka moment came from a source that I actually have not completely looked over just yet, but it’s actually the chapter section I’m working on right now. It’s the diaries of the female students left behind in the late eighteenth century. They are diaries of the female students of the Bethlehem Female Seminary. So I still haven’t looked through all of it, but I did find sort of interesting connection while I was doing some secondary literature reading, with a missionary named Anna Rosina Gambold.

Jane’s research notes from Rowena McClinton’s “Converging Spiritualities: Observations of Anna Rosina Gambold, Missionary to the Cherokees, 1805 to 1821,” Yearbook of German-American Studies 45 (2010): 61-75.’’

Yeah, yeah, you know! Because I emailed you about her. I didn’t know this when I was looking through the diaries, but she was actually a teacher when the Seminary first opened [to the public]. She was mainly praised by her students for her love of the arts, specifically poetry, but she did—in the historical literature, she has some mentions of her being like the “first female botanist in the New World,” so I thought I was like: wait, why is there not more about her? So , yes, and then you told me there is a small collection of personal papers from her here in the Archives, and gifts—of you said illustrations she made because she was an avid artist, but I wanted to see if she has any, you know, botanical drawings. That would be great. I would love to put that in my dissertation.

TM: She definitely integrates floral designs into her artwork. There’s probably an interest you can see there before she does any botanical work.

JC: Yeah, because that sort of botanical interest was already there when she was a teacher. But when she went to Springplace, Georgia, she was actually able to put some of that interest to practice.

Birthday poem, composed and illustrated by Anna Rosina Kliest, Bethlehem, 9 June 1804, KliestColl 09, Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA.

TM: That’s cool!

JC: Yeah, those are the two materials that gave me eureka moments. God bless.

TM: The one eureka moment seems to be leading to a chapter in—is it—your dissertation? What is your dissertation about, in its grand sum?

JC: Okay. Yeah, I got to give you the three-minute elevator pitch. The working title is “Intermingling of the Old and New: The Formation of a New German-American Medical Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania (1730-1810).” What I do is I look at a variety of German settlers between 1730 and 1810. For instance, in my first chapter I deal with European minister-physicians, you know, because back then everyone just sort of grouped natural philosophy and natural sciences together, so everyone dabbled a little bit in the sciences.

Detail from a medicinal recipe book of Johannes Herbst, ca. 1790, MC Lanc, Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA

I look at these specific groups of people, I look at women, I look at the Moravians, other German settlers, and their interactions with the Indigenous and Black community and see where German medical culture developed in colonial America. The history of medicine is actually extensive, so there’s a lot, but funnily enough it’s very heavily Anglo-focused. Whenever we discuss the buzz word “Atlantic history,” because that is sort of what my dissertation falls into (Atlantic history), even though there’s a Portuguese Atlantic history, obviously a British, and a French Atlantic world and so on, in the historiography of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there’s not really a German Atlantic history. David Blackbourn has this new book called Germany in the World: A Global History, 1500-2000, published last year in October, and he explains that there is a German Atlantic world, but there isn’t much written about it. He describes Germans as “chameleons” or “shapeshifters” who melded into the local environment, and historians have just overlooked them. My dissertation addresses that gap in bringing out this German Atlantic in the colonial period, and I do this in the realm of the history of science and medicine, since that is my background.

TM: That’s really cool. That kind of connects you with another scholar that we interviewed as part of this series: Josef Köstlbauer. Josef wrote a chapter for a book called Globalized Peripheries and emphasizes Germany and Central Europe being a peripheral part of the Atlantic world. He talked about how Germany is not always considered a part of the Atlantic world; however, they are participating in Atlantic trade networks, and Josef comes into this through Germany’s entanglement with slavery and the Atlantic slave trade. You mentioned that you were working on your dissertation. Are you presenting your research findings anywhere?

JC: I’m mainly focused on finishing the dissertation, because I want to get my Ph.D. and work. But I will say I obtained two short-term grants for the summer, so I will probably be seeing you in the summer again. I do have a presentation for the American Philosophical Society in May 2024 based on my findings from last year. Since I’m working on the Moravian chapter now, I’ll also be working on the report that’s due to the Moravian Archives, thanks to the Vernon Nelson research grant I received last year. I obtained a one-month fellowship from the German Historical Institute to work at the Horner Library (German Society of Pennsylvania) in Philadelphia. And once I’m done with that, they also would like me to present at a brown-bag meeting. I do have a couple of formal presentations, but for the most part I’m just trying to finish my dissertation.

TM: You’re eager to finish your dissertation and get to work, you said. What would you like to do?

JC: I will admit: academia is off the table. My experience here as a TA hasn’t been the best. The bureaucratic and sort of white ivory tower characteristic associated with academia, along with my experience as a female, an Asian female, have impacted my decision-making. I know that this is an experience that’s going to happen anywhere in the world, but I have already felt my fair share of discrimination or racial micro-aggressions in Germany, and I don’t really want to deal with that any more. I changed gears and, instead of doing teaching or something in academia, I would rather work in the public sector. My dream was always to work for the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) of the government; in a way, it’s still obtainable, because I do have environmental dimensions in my dissertation. But right now I would be really happy to work in a museum or an archives. If I see an archival opening, I’m going to apply! Archivists such as you and people at the American Philosophical Society have made my research experience very pleasant, to be frank. One of my fellow German cohorts—one of my closest friends in the program—he’s currently in Germany on a yearlong fellowship in Germany; I’m sure you’ve heard, but doing archival research in Germany can be a different experience, it can be stressful just because of how bureaucratic Germans tend to be. He’s found great material. I don’t mean to talk negatively about German archives; it’s just a different experience because it feels a lot stricter, policy-wise. If I could leave an impact like you have made for my own research experience, I would be so happy. Don’t worry, Thomas; you are getting an acknowledgement in my dissertation!

TM: Thank you. Not expected, but I appreciate it! It could be really fascinating to work as an archivist or curator somewhere like the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, who preserves medical/medicinal collections. Somewhere like this that utilizes your expertise in the history of science and medicine. Drexel University has a really huge collection from Hahnemann, and there’s also the Science History Institute near Independence Hall, who collect materials related to the history of science; they collect things on medicine, physics, chemistry…

JC: Yeah, I’m looking at their website. This is the kind of museum that I would like to work with. Like the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian, anything related to the history of sciences. But I did not know about the Mütter Museum! This is the epitome of what I’d like to work in.

TM: Given your research experience at the Moravian Archives and, also, what you’ve learned through other sources doing research on the Moravians, what is something that you wish others knew about the Moravians or about doing research at the Moravian Archives?

JC: Going back to that female botanist Anna Rosina Gambold…when she and her husband moved to Springplace, Georgia—the reason she actually moved to Springplace, Georgia is because after she married her husband in Bethlehem, he was expected to go to Georgia and set up a mission site there, so she just went him as a missionary. When they were traveling, they brought with them an enslaved woman named Pleasant. There’s actually a recent book about Pleasant and how she sort of defied the Moravians; she said something along the lines of, “Don’t believe everything these Moravians are saying. They’re all lies.” And I was like, “Dang, she is woke! Good for her.” I’ll have to give you the exact book title. While I was researching this—and I know there are some books about how Germans, including the Moravians, did have a hand in slavery and participating in the purchasing and selling of slaves—one thing I didn’t know, and maybe it wasn’t a unanimous decision, but the Moravian Church [in America], I think it was about twenty years ago, issued an apology for participating in the slave trade and what not. One of the biggest things for me, as a minority myself, is that people acknowledge that they had a hand in slavery, and I think the Moravian Archives, in my view, helps bring those stories to light. The Moravian Archives tries—I don’t know if I’m right or wrong about this—to put the experience of Indigenous and Black communities at the forefront of research. So that’s something I personally appreciate. But, also, the Moravian Archives is a great place to work at. The archivists are awesome. It’s the reason why I…it’s been an influence in my career trajectory, because of my very positive experience with the people there. It’s also very, very quaint. It’s very comfortable.

TM: Thank you.

JC: Yeah, it’s open space, there’s a nice, big old window. I still have very positive memories of when I came during the winter, and it was snowing. Every time I needed a break, I just looked outside and saw the white [snow], and it was really relaxing. Your archives is constructed in a way that makes it very laid back, makes the researcher feel comfortable.

TM: That’s really good to hear!

JC: Paul and you are very aware and check up on me. When I did my bachelor’s thesis, and I did research in Britain, because I was doing it on Joseph Priestley at the time, I worked at the National Archives there, the archives/library at Oxford University, and it was just like, “What do you need? Here you go.” It wasn’t really conducive to interactions with the archivists. I don’t know. I was a noob [i.e., newbie] at the time, so I don’t know if I needed to speak up to say, “Hey, I need help. Any other suggestions?” That’s the great thing about you. Every time I ask for something, you’re like, “Here’s this, the materials you requested. But there’s XYZ here that I think you may want to look at.” I do really appreciate you as archivist, being so intelligent and aware of what you have in the Archives. It’s different from my experience doing archival research in Britain.

TM: That’s very kind. Thank you. It was really nice talking to you and being open to doing this interview, and I look forward to seeing you at the Archives this summer. Good luck with your writing and the rest of the semester.

JC: Thanks, Thomas! Bye!

Enjoyed this conversation? Be sure to check out our previous interviews here: