Christopher Atwood

Christopher  Atwood

Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations

Mongolian and Late Imperial/Early Modern Chinese History


After getting by A.B. from Harvard University (1986), where I was introduced to Mongolian and Chinese studies by Joseph Fletcher and Francis W. Cleaves, I spent two years in Inner Mongolia, traveling and taking classes in the Mongolian language and literature department at Höhhot’s Inner Mongolia Normal University.

I received my Ph.D. from Indiana University’s Central Eurasian Studies Department, where I worked with György Kara, Lynn Struve, Elliot Sperling, and Jeff Wasserstrom. Before coming to Penn, I taught for two decades at Indiana University, serving as department chair and interim director of the Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region.

My approach to history can be summed up by Daryl Zero, 

"When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them.

"When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them."


"I can't possibly overstate the importance of good research. Everyone goes through life dropping crumbs. If you can recognize the crumbs, you can trace a path all the way back from your death certificate to the dinner and a movie that resulted in you in the first place. But research is an art, not a science, because anyone who knows what they're doing can find the crumbs, the wheres, whats, and whos. The art is in the whys: the ability to read between the crumbs, not to mix metaphors. For every event, there is a cause and effect. For every crime, a motive. And for every motive, a passion. The art of research is the ability to look at the details, and see the passion."


Ph.D. Indiana University-Bloomington, 1994

A.B. Harvard University, 1986