Anthony Barbieri-Low transferred to the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1992 to study Asian History and Anthropology (Archaeology). Under the influence of, in his words, "great professors," he decided to focus on Ancient Chinese history and archaeology. Graduating with honors in 1994 with a senior thesis entitled, “The Origins and Evolution of Political Authority in Ancient China,” Barbieri-Low set off to begin his career in academia. He received his M.A. in East Asian Regional Studies at Harvard University in 1997. His M.A. thesis entitled “Wheeled Vehicles in the Chinese Bronze Age,” a technical investigation of the Chinese chariot and its diffusion from Central Asian prototypes, was published in an expanded form in 2000 in Sino-Platonic Papers 99.
Barbieri-Low received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 2001, having written his dissertation on the organization of imperial workshops in Han China under the guidance of Professor Robert W. Bagley. Using object analysis, inscriptions, and received texts, he reconstructed in his dissertation the labor and management organization at one imperial luxury-goods factory that operated in Chengdu city during the Qin and Han dynasties. After graduating, Barbieri-Low took up his first appointment in the History Department at the University of Pittsburgh and then, in 2007, accepted a position in the Department of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
His research interests are currently focused on craftsmen in Ancient China, cultural contact and transmission between China and the West, historical interpretations of the Qin Dynasty, and law and society in Early China. Barbieri-Low was the winner of the 2009 Joseph Levenson Book Prize of the Association for Asian Studies for his work, "Artisans in Early Imperial China" (University of Washington Press, 2007). The committee wrote the following of his prize-winning book:
Barbieri-Low pulls off a major achievement: reconstructing the life and work of the craftsmen who created early China’s most impressive works of art. Combining artistic, archaeological, and textual evidence, he gives us a finely drawn portrait of how they created objects, how they suffered, and how other strata viewed them. Artisan skills, regarded as “clever” but morally unrefined by literati, nevertheless gave them a sense of social solidarity and put them in close contact with the court, the market, and consumers. From an artisan’s perspective, Han China looks surprisingly modern: the most successful men and women used modular designs in an almost industrial production line, they branded their pieces with their own names, and they sought out opportunities for profit whenever possible. Others, however, were not so lucky. They suffered under the oppression of bonded labor and were poisoned by toxic chemicals used in lacquer production. The author’s rich description of these little-known historical subjects stands out as an exemplary work of social, artistic, and archaeological history.Anthony Barbieri-Low will be the 2012 History Undergraduate Research Symposium Keynote Speaker.