Susan Mann, a UC Davis history professor emerita, has been announced as one of the winners of the 2014 lifetime achievement awards from the American Historical Association.
Mann, who is the former chair of the UC Davis history department, is the first UC Davis history professor to receive this award.
Though Mann has received a number of honors in the past, including the Outstanding Mentor Award from the UC Davis Consortium for Women and Research as well as the UC Davis Faculty Research Lecturer award, she said that receiving this honor was a complete surprise. She first found out that she had received this honor through a letter from Jan Goldstein, the chair of the selection committee.
Mann, who specializes in the history of women and gender in China, said that she first became interested in studying gender when she was teaching at the University of Chicago in the 1970s. Although she was then working on a book about Chinese commercial taxes, her female undergraduates encouraged her to study the history of women instead.
“They started holding meetings for the Women’s Union in my house and reeducated me,” Mann said. “Then I met a group of scholars at Stanford in the early 1980s, all working on women’s history, and they showed me it could be done.”
During this time period, a 1957 index with thousands of Chinese women’s poems from the late imperial period reemerged, and Mann began studying the history of Chinese women.
Today, Mann has written many articles as well as several books about women in late imperial and early modern China.
“One of her books, entitled ‘Precious Records,’ changed the way that I study Chinese history,” said former student Guotong Li. “Her work made me [see] that women’s own literary writings in the 18th century could be used to reconstruct the silenced history of women at the time.”
From her time at UC Davis, Mann said that she loved spending time with her fellow professors. She and her colleagues even formed a program called the Cross-Cultural Women’s History in order to facilitate conversations about gender among faculty and graduate students. Today the program is known as Cross-Cultural Women’s and Gender History.
However, Mann might be most well-known for her relationship with her students.
“Susan is the best mentor and teacher,” said Yulian Wu, a former Ph.D. student of Mann. “From [an] academic perspective, she taught me how to think and write as a historian. Her work inspired my interests in Gender history and I finally decided to become a gender historian.”
Other students echo this sentiment.
“Not only did she act as my career mentor in a professional way, Susan also served and still serves as the role model in my life,” Li said. “She spends lots of her time correcting and editing my works, [and has] never turned down my request for her academic help, even after my graduation. Her strong support means a lot to a junior faculty member in the academic field.”
Kathryn Olmsted, the chair of the UC Davis history department, agreed that Mann strongly deserved this honor.
“She’s an extraordinary scholar: she’s a pioneer in her field and in the academy,” Olmsted said. “In addition to her lifetime of impressive scholarship, she also provided a lot of service to the university, including serving as chair of our department. We’re so happy that the historical profession has given her this tremendous honor.”