WHAT THEY LEARNED: Caitlin Gallagher ’15

The East Asian languages and cultures major synthesized her love of Chinese culture and economics in a thesis analyzing China’s economic system during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Caitlin Gallagher pursued both Mandarin Chinese and economics minors while completing her East Asian languages and cultures major, and she sythesized those interests into her senior thesis, “Feng Menglong’s Vernacular Short Stories: A Guide to the Rise of the Merchant Class in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644): A Complementary System of Capitalism and Confucianism.”

“My thesis work was inspired by my mutual passions for Chinese culture and economics,” says Gallagher. “I was able to pursue these passions by analyzing China’s economic system in a very interesting time—when the start of trade, or capitalism, began to blossom.”

Gallagher, who was also a star tennis player at the College and captain of the team her senior year, wants to encourage other Fords to work across disciplines, as she did, and explore all avenues available to them—both inside and out of the classroom—during their time at the College.

“At a liberal arts college, like Haverford, I believe that it is important for students to be adventurous and challenge themselves by following pursuits that take them out of their comfort zone,” she says. “By challenging oneself, as I have done, you grow, not just as an academic, but also as a person.”

What are the implications for your thesis research?

The interesting part of my thesis is that it combines several different disciplines. My primary source is short stories that were published and became famous during the Ming Dynasty. I use this as evidence of the burgeoning merchant class, as well as capitalistic attitudes, during this time period. As a result of literary and historical analysis, I draw the connection that the merger of capitalistic and Confucian societies in the Ming Dynasty can also be seen in the economic development of contemporary China. This combination of literary, historical, and economic analysis is what makes my research unique and my conclusion original.

What did you learn from working on your thesis?

The biggest takeaway from writing my thesis was that it is acceptable, if not necessary, to challenge yourself and take a risk with your ideas. In this way, I was able to look at information that has been studied before in a new and original light. I know that the skills I developed and the confidence that was inspired by writing my thesis will be useful in my future career. … Currently, I am pursuing a career in finance and international business. I plan to follow my passions and continue my study of China’s culture and economy, especially in relation to trading with the United States. I hope to be on the forefront of any new developments and, hopefully, work in China one day.


Image from the Summer Palace, Beijing, China, depicting the Legend of the White Snake

Credit: Shizhao 

 “What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.