Jesse Watson is a historian of imperial China with a focus on early empires, legal cultures, and materiality. His book project, entitled “Paperwork before Paper,” uses hundreds of thousands of newly excavated manuscripts from China’s early empires to plumb the promise and failures of ancient paperwork.
A second research project traces how the stamp seal (chop) became early imperial China’s preeminent marker of identity, even as the material reproducibility of the seal simultaneously guaranteed and destabilized the notion of authenticity. As this project argues, newly discovered excavated seals and seal impressions (fengni) show that women and non-Han “barbarians” were particularly adept at exploiting these paradoxes to claim power and identity in a world otherwise dominated by the homosocial court.
He offers courses on Chinese history from the earliest period to the present, including both broad surveys and upper division seminars on legal history, archaeology, environmental history, and the comparative history of early empires.
His research has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, Fulbright, and Columbia University’s Tang Center for Early China, among others.