A specialist in premodern Chinese history, Ruth W. Dunnell came to Kenyon in 1989 as the second holder of the James P. Storer Professorship in Asian History. She helped to launch the interdisciplinary Asian Studies Program in 1991. Dunnell has moved to expand coverage of Korea in her East Asian history courses and also teaches courses on family in East Asia, Tibet, Vietnam, and the Mongol empire.

After publishing a book on the rise of a Buddhist state between Tibet and China in the eleventh century (the Tangut Xia, conquered by the Mongols in 1227),  she turned her attention to the Mongol conquests and their legacies in East Asia, published a biography of Chinggis Khan in 2009, and has contributed chapters to a forthcoming Cambridge History of the Mongol Empire. Her current research explores social history of the class of foreign experts (Tanguts, Uighurs, and Central Asian Muslims, mainly) recruited to help the Mongols govern China in the 13th and 14th centuries. Dunnell also plans to undertake a new English translation of a travel diary kept by Li Zhichang, the disciple who accompanied the Daoist master Changchun on a visit to Chinggis Qan's camp in Afghanistan in ca. 1221-23, during Mongol campaigns in Central Asia.   

In 1999-2000 she served as the resident director of the Oregon University System study abroad program in Beijing, and travels to East Asia every now and then. 

Areas of Expertise

Chinese and inner-Asian history, comparative history of north Asia 11th-14th centuries, Mongol empire.


1983 — Doctor of Philosophy from Princeton University

1975 — Master of Arts from University of Washington

1972 — Bachelor of Arts from Middlebury College

Courses Recently Taught

Why and how did Mongolian and Turkic nomads join together to conquer much of the Eurasian world in the early 13th century? What impact did those conquests have on the civilizations they encountered and ruled, from southern Russia and Anatolia to Persia, central Asia, and China? Why do they remain a fertile source for contemporary pop culture? The first part of this course introduces anthropological and historical perspectives on what it meant to be a nomad (focusing on nomads of Eurasia), how sedentary writers (such as Herodotus and Sima Qian) wrote about nomadic neighbors, and how (and why) nomadic societies organized states and interacted with agrarian peoples. Next the course will examine in depth the career of Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan) and the empires founded by his descendants, with attention to how Mongol imperial priorities and political culture drove new patterns of trade and consumption, religious patronage, and administrative practices, which fostered new paradigms of political and cultural expression in areas under Mongol control. Students will read and discuss arguments made by modern scholars (from the 18th century forward), and dip into the vast body of primary sources generated by the conquests, both textual and visual: chronicles, folklore, travelers’ accounts, inscriptions, art and archaeological findings, etc. This counts toward the premodern and colonial/imperial requirements for the major and the premodern requirement for the minor. No prerequisite. Offered every two or three years.\n