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In Memoriam David N. Keightley

By Gabriel McKee
05/24/2017

We at the ISAW Library were saddened to hear of the passing of noted Sinologist David N. Keightley on February 23, 2017. Prof. Keightley was a major scholar of Bronze Age China, and in particular on oracle bonesdivinatory texts written on animal bones from the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600-1046 BCE) that contain some of the earliest known writing in the Chinese language. His work, including his monographs Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China (1978) and The Ancestral Landscape: Time, Space, and Community in Late Shang China (ca. 1200-1045 B.C.) (2000), provides vital insights for our understanding of this formative era of Chinese history.

Prof. Keightley began his graduate career as a student of medieval French, receiving a Fulbright scholarship to study at the University of Lille and completing an M.A. in modern European history at New York University in 1956. Shortly thereafter he turned his attention to East Asian history, beginning a PhD at Columbia in 1962 and studying at the Stanford Center in Taipei for two years. After completing his dissertation (on forced labor in the Shang and Chou Dynasties) in 1969, he was appointed professor of East Asian History at the University of California, Berkeley, replacing Prof. Woodbridge Bingham after his retirement. Prof. Keightley remained at Berkeley for nearly 30 years until his retirement in 1998.

 In 2013, Prof. Keightley generously donated his book collection to the ISAW Library. The Keightley Collection contains nearly 1,000 volumes, including oracle bone texts, important archaeological publications, and a wealth of supporting materials on the early history of China. The materials in the collection are searchable in the NYU Libraries' online catalog, Bobcat, using the search term "Keightley Collection." Though this donation, the ISAW Library will be able to help future generations of scholars to build on the foundation of Prof. Keightley’s work.

 For more information on Prof. Keightley’s life, career, and scholarship, see his obituary on the Berkeley Department of History website or David Johnson’s celebratory essay, published in a Festschrift for Prof. Keightley in the 1995 issue of the journal Early China.


In Memoriam David N. Keightley

David N. Keightley's "Sources of Shang History" (ISAW Oversize Collection PL2447 .K4 1985)