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Yan Liu

Assistant Professor
Office: 553 Park Hall
Phone: (716) 645-8404


Ph.D., Harvard University (History of Science, 2015)
M.A., University of Michigan (Chinese Studies, 2009)
Ph.D., University of Michigan (Biology, 2007)
B.S., Univ. of Science and Technology of China (Biology, 2000)


Chinese History, History of Medicine, Religious Healing, History of the Body, Material Culture, Transnational History, History of Food

Courses Offered

HIS 181: Asian Civilizations I (origins to 1600): Connections and Movements
HIS 403: Medicines, Poisons, and Foods: Material Culture of Medicine in China and Europe
HIS 338: History of Chinese Medicine
HIS 549: History of the Body

Research Interests

I am a cultural historian of China, specializing in the history of medicine in the first millennium. I am generally interested in the history of pharmacology, religious healing (Daoism and Buddhism), alchemy, the history of senses and emotions, and the exchange of medical knowledge in the global context. I am currently preparing a book manuscript based on my dissertation “Toxic Cures: Poisons and Medicines in Medieval China.” The project explores the use of toxic substances as therapeutic agents in traditional Chinese pharmacy, highlighting the shifting boundary between medicine and poison as shaped by technical, cultural, and social conditions. My future projects include the history of food in China and the circulation of aromatics (saffron, camphor, etc.) across Eurasia.

Teaching Interests

I teach courses on both Chinese history and the history of medicine. Besides the courses listed above, I am also interested in offering courses on food history, the history of senses, medicine and religion, and the global history of science and medicine. I am keen in introducing comparative perspectives into my teaching to broaden students’ horizons, and trying creative assignments (multimedia productions, for example) to enrich their learning experience.

Recent Publications

“Poisonous Medicine in Ancient China,” History of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Toxicology in Antiquity, Volume II, ed. Philip Wexler, Elsevier, 2015: 89-97.