Eric Jay Dolin Speaks at Milton
by Shira Golub on Friday, March 7th, 2014
On Wednesday, March 3rd, students in Classes I-III gathered in the ACC to listen to this year’s Hong Kong speaker Eric Jay Dolin who discussed his book, When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs and Money in the Age of Sail.
Dolin’s speech took the audience through the history of the China Trade from pre-revolutionary America to the mid 19th century. He highlighted events such as the addition of the Chipper Ships that “dominated [the] China trade for twenty-years” and the coolies whom he referred to as “slaves by another name.”
Mr. Bland introduced Dr. Dolin as an intellectual with a “love of sharing stories,” and this was apparent within his fluid telling of the historical tension between China and America. In evaluating the current struggle between the two competing nations, Dolin articulated that he “thought it would be interesting to look back.”
Dr. Dolin, who earned his Ph. D in environmental policy and planning from MIT, arrived at his career through a twisted path. After working at jobs ranging from program manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to American Association for the Advancement of Science writing fellow at Business Week, and even intern at the U.S. Senate to a curatorial assistant in the Mollusk Department at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, Dolin landed on writing.
“I’m not a writer by training,” noted Dolin in his informal gathering during third period in Straus; however, Dolin has used some of his background education to inform his writing, as he has incorporated a wildlife aspect in almost every book he has written. He has written a total of eleven books that cover a wide range of subject matters including the Fur Trade, the Federal Duck Stamp Program and a guide to surviving a Ph.D. Dolin explained that he writes in an attempt to “reach the average reader.”
The tone of universality as well as his ability to use a historical narrative in his books are some of the reasons When America First Met China was assigned for some history classes as summer reading. However, some students such as Kat Fearey (I), who had already read the book, did not benefit from Dolin’s visit to campus. “His speech was basically the entire book,” Kat said, “he went through [the talk] in the same order and the pictures he showed were all from the book. It didn’t necessarily cover anything new.”
Students who had previously read the book were not the only ones who left this assembly feeling unsatisfied. The short time period Dolin covered in his speech was not fulfilling for much of the Milton audience. “He only knew things about the period he studied,” said Nate Stanfield (I). Two audience members agreed as they asked Dolin questions in the assembly that he couldn’t answer because of his realm of knowledge.
“It was interesting, but I didn’t really understand what the purpose was,” noted Juliet Pesner (III). The author may have intended this kind of questioning, for he explained in Straus, “My goal is not to write books that break ground… I’m more of a synthetic writer.” Although Dolin brought valuable information to the attention of his audience, many felt his limited scope of information didn’t influence the community effectively.
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