The Changing Face Of History

uncovers York’s ‘Shanghainese’ gem, History legend, Yiyun Ding

History is a man’s game, or so was once said. No more. Thankfully, no more.

Academic diversification of History in the latter half of the 20th century corresponded with a broadening of who studies and pertinently who teaches in this field. It is now true to say that the study of history is dominated by females (in the UK at least). Furthermore, the current state of affairs is one in which, according to UCAS, women outnumber men in up to two thirds of degree courses. Women from poorer backgrounds are 50 per cent more likely to go to university than their male counterparts. This gender gap has shrunk and flipped. History is now becoming Herstory.

The story is somewhat different in professorships. A 2015 report by the World University Rankings showed that only 22 per cent of professors in the UK were women. This is obviously not representative of the population.

This brings us to the subject of Yiyun Ding, a History PHD student and seminar leader at the University of York. Yiyun’s fashion sense is remarkably unique. What makes Yiyun’s fabulous dressing so very wonderful is that she is at times simply unaware of the power of her image. She commented “People might begin to re-examine their own identities through others’ eyes, since I had not realised that I possessed a ‘Shanghai style’ until Peter Jacobs, the fashion editor, linked my dressing style with my indigenous Shanghainese identity.”

In this sense, part of the beauty of Yiyun’s style is that she does not try at all. Simply put, this look comes naturally, for Yiyun’s Shanghai fashion is not an abstract attempt to be edgy but a very real expression of a very real past. After conversing with Yiyun, I learned that she also wants Shanghai to be part of her future. It is always intriguing to interview a non-Englander to find out their perspective on what they view as British fashion. Yiyun commented that “British fashion sometimes emphasises more on formal wear and dressing code”; that this was the distinctive feature of British fashion.

Yiyun was happy to take part in a photoshoot to showcase her look and so it transpired. Yiyun commented that due to Shanghai’s history as an international port city, the fashion that has emerged is a “hybrid of both traditional Chinese aesthetics and foreign fashion influenes from many countries.” This idea is physically borne out in Yiyun’s outfit, which contains Chinese influences (black scarf, taobao, £60; wooden earrings, taobao, £20) and more familiar brands (coat, Reiss, £250; boots, Clarks, £70).

It was a pleasure to work with Yiyun and she was optimistic on reducing whatever gender disparity there still is in the field, as she commented, “I believe in our younger generations, that gender equality is improving in the study of history.” York is blessed with a Shanghainese masterpiece in Yiyun. I only hope more women of backgrounds as diverse as Yiyun’s can be encouraged by the fact that History is a discipline for all; a story for the masses.

Thanks to Giang Anh, Janan Jama and Nathan Castro Pachecho,.

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