Merkel-Hess receives NEH fellowship to continue study of China's warlord period

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Kate Merkel-Hess, assistant professor of history and Asian studies in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, has received a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) to continue her research on the collapse of the Chinese republic into rule by regional warlords in the early and middle 20th century.

The NEH, an independent federal agency created in 1965, is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. “NEH provides support for projects across America that preserve our heritage, promote scholarly discoveries, and make the best of America’s humanities ideas available to all Americans,” said NEH Chairman William D. Adams.

NEH fellowships specifically support individuals whose advanced research is of significant value to both humanities scholars and general audiences. Merkel-Hess is one of only 86 scholars out of more than 1,200 applicants nationwide to receive a fellowship during the 2016 funding cycle.

Merkel-Hess is a historian of modern China, with a particular interest in the Republican period from 1912 to 1949. Her NEH fellowship will allow Merkel-Hess to continue research on her next book, tentatively titled “The Warlords: Intimacy and Power in Modern China,” which examines the collapse of the Chinese republic into rule by regional warlords. While the “warlord period” in China is narrowly defined as lasting from 1917 until 1927, many of the warlords remained in power through the 1940s and some even took positions in the Chinese Communist government after 1949. Merkel-Hess’ research examines how the warlords’ personal intimacies — love, marriage, family, friendship, enmity, and patronage — helped shape them as leaders and ultimately the political culture of modern China.

“These warlords were not simply military strongmen,” Merkel-Hess explained. “They and their families profoundly reordered Chinese political culture in ways that continue to matter today.”

Merkel-Hess says the NEH fellowship will enable her to visit archives that hold important information about this period in Chinese history, and to spend time writing and revising her manuscript. “I am honored to receive an NEH fellowship to support the project, which not only tells a largely unknown history but also examines critical questions about familial relationships, political power, and the construction of a robust republic,” she said.

To learn more, contact Merkel-Hess at 814-865-0750 or

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Last Updated January 04, 2017