Bachelor of arts in history, Brigham Young University

Master’s degree in Chinese literature, Washington University

Ph.D. in comparative literature, University of Oregon

No one knows that I… enjoy woodworking.

My favorite movie is… “Chariots of Fire,” “Gandhi,” “A Man for All Seasons,” or “A Passage to India.”

The most unusual thing I have run across while doing my research is… The sheer power of the Mongol invasion of the world and the importance of Central Asia generally.

The best advice I can give to students is… The most important single quality for success is the ability to keep trying after perceived failure. Sometimes one feels like Don Quixote, but there is something noble in long-term effort.


Carl Robertson

Assistant Professor of Modern Languages

For some people, work is a chore. They separate their passion from their profession. This is not the case for Carl Robertson.

Robertson’s interest in China started early on. He graduated from high school at the same time that China was reopening its doors to foreigners and remembers being completely absorbed by the photos of this mysterious land in the pages of National Geographic. Little did he know he would one day see some of these sights firsthand.

As a first-year student at Brigham Young University, Robertson was required to take a foreign language, and chose Chinese on a whim. It was a whim that would profoundly influence the rest of his life, as he quickly became more and more passionate about Chinese. While other students were just doing what it took to get the requirement out of the way, Robertson was listening to Chinese grammar tapes on the weekends just for fun.

When he was called to serve his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was assigned to Taiwan. He instantly fell in love with the language, the culture, everything. “Being in Taiwan was like being a kid in a candy shop for two years!” Robertson says. When he returned to the United States, however, he felt the need to find a practical career path, which at the time did not include Chinese. His classes were starting to lean towards education; however, he was hesitant. More and more he felt pulled back to Chinese. Whenever he wasn’t taking a Chinese class, he would work through a Chinese poem every weekend. “I just couldn’t stay away from it,” Robertson remembers, “It was just inside of me.”

After graduation he decided to continue his study of history from his undergraduate career, but he did this in Nanjing, China. The program he was enrolled in was just in its second year of existence, and while there he decided to switch his focus from history and social sciences to his passion, comparative literature. While in Nanjing he discovered another passion as well: Chinese calligraphy. With a renewed sense of direction, he returned to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in Chinese literature at Washington University in St. Louis. After the master’s degree, he continued his studies in comparative literature at the University of Oregon, and soon began teaching. During his graduate studies, he was accepted as a full-time instructor for six years, during which time he taught every Chinese language class offered in the department at the undergraduate level. This experience gave him the goal to build a Chinese program for a university from scratch.

After completing his Ph.D., Robertson acted on a whim once more, and applied for a position at Southwestern. He never saw himself even visiting Texas, but as soon as he saw the campus he knew that the move was the best thing for him and his family.

When Robertson took over the Chinese program in 2002, there were only 13 students. Today the program consistently has more than 60 students, and is still growing. The global influence of China is growing as well, and Robertson sees the Chinese department as another way that Southwestern can prepare its students for the world as it is, as well as how it will be.

“I can’t believe I have the great fortune to do the thing I most love in the world and get paid for it,” Robertson says. “I’m still that kid in the candy shop.”