MALS Faculty Spotlight: Nathaniel Issacson

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Nathaniel Issacson is an Associate Professor of Modern Chinese literature and cultural studies. His research interests include Chinese science fiction, Chinese cinema and popular culture. This fall he will be teaching a new MALS Seminar, “Contagion and Containment Across the Pacific.”

Dr. Nathaniel Issacson

Tell us about yourself! Where are you from? What brought you to North Carolina/NC State? 

I grew up in Arizona, and got my PhD at UCLA. I came here immediately after finishing my degree. In part, I came here because it was a job at a respected research institution in a wonderful place to live. During my campus visit interviewing for the job, it was apparent that NCSU more closely resembles the community that it serves, and that there was a high percentage of first-generation students here. I wanted to be at an institution where the education on offer is changing people’s futures, not just reinforcing the privileges they already have and I think NCSU is that kind of place.  

What is your academic and/or professional background? 

I have a PhD in East Asian Languages and Cultures, particularly in modern Chinese literature. There was a short period of time where I thought I was going to learn Chinese and go into business, but I discovered that wasn’t for me. 

What brought you to your field of study? When/Why did you become interested in your area of study/research? 

As I mentioned above, for a while I thought I’d learn Chinese and go into business [whatever that meant], but as time went on, I discovered I really want to be involved in that. I did really like teaching, and love learning about other cultures and their art forms. My main field is Chinese science fiction, and that was kind of an accident – I needed a dissertation topic and it just so happened that people right around then were starting to tune in to sf from China. 

What is your experience with the MALS program? What attracts you about the MALS program and teaching an interdisciplinary course? How do you feel about the importance of interdisciplinarity? 

This coming semester will be my first semester teaching with MALS. I guess MALS attracts me for similar reasons to why I love NCSU – the students are engaged with the community. Beyond that, I think that people who are coming back to do a degree in Liberal Studies in evening classes are my favorite kind of students – people who have been out in the workforce for a while and come back to school have so much wonderful experience that they bring to the table, and a real sense of purpose.

Tell us about your current research and academic pursuits. Are there any recent accomplishments we can share?

Right now, it looks like I’ve agreed to write a book chapter on UFOs in China. I am looking primarily at a magazine that started being published a few years after Chairman Mao died, as China began to open up to the western world after being closed off for a long time. Some UFO-logists from China argued that the study of  UFOs should be uniquely Chinese. The idea is to use that to explore how Chinese people think about science, technology and superstition or pseudoscience. It’s also a way of thinking about the universality of science, and how Chinese people see their place in the universe.

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