On the natural history of destruction



technology, politics, and material transformation in Asia's long World War II

9:45 am to 6 pm
October 5, 2018
Columbia University
New York, New York



This one-day workshop aims to illuminate the complicated relationship between political possibilities and material transformation in Asia during the catastrophe of the continent's long World War II (1931-1954). Through mobilization, industrialization, agricultural exhaustion and the annihilation of cities, wars of aggression and wars of liberation, the collective conflict known as World War II permanently altered the physical and human geography of East and Southeast Asia. The prosecution of war on all sides and at all levels depended on technical undertakings conceived within competing political visions, whether naval warfare in imperial Japan, resource extraction in Nationalist China, or the construction of industrial supply chains across Western and Japanese colonies in Burma, Malaya, Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies. In turn, these projects produced new political technologies as workers, architects, and industrialists, no less than politicians, scientists, soldiers, and revolutionaries, struggled to understand a world of mechanized destruction—and to imagine a new one to replace it.

Image: Men cleaning up ruins and reconstructing bombed buildings, Chongqing, China, 1941. 



Transformation of City and Country

Discussant: Sheldon M. Garon, Princeton University

“A Steppe Too Far: Rationalizing Nomads in Japanese-Occupied Inner Mongolia”
Sakura Christmas, Bowdoin College

“Enlightening the Natives: Crisis, Rice and Education in Wartime Kangding”
Mark Frank, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Playing with Fire: Experiments in Architecture and Destruction”
Nicholas Risteen, Princeton University

Circulation of Knowledge, Technology, and Materials

Discussant: Christopher Goscha, Université du Québec à Montréal

“Assessing the ‘Stockpile’: The Materiality of Allied Wartime Aid to China”
Judd Kinzley, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“Feeding and Being Fed: Racialized Rationing, Rice Culture, and Wartime Collapse in the Japanese South Seas”
Josh Levy, University of South Florida

“Fueling the Fight: Biofuels and Ethanol in Republican China, 1921-1938”
Tristan Revells, Columbia University

Transformation of the State

Discussant: Paul Kreitman, Columbia University

“The Fast Trains of a Modern Power: Locomotion of Japanese Empire and Postwar Nostalgia”
Jessamyn Abel, Pennsylvania State University

“A New Man-Made Disaster: Rivers, Energy, and Local Communities in Wartime Southwest China”
Xiangli Ding, University of Alabama in Huntsville

“Technologies of Information: Libraries, Publishing, and Propaganda in Wartime Indochina”
Cindy Nguyen, University of California, Berkeley

Transformation of Politics

Discussant: Maggie Clinton, Middlebury College

”The Transnational Origins of ‘Revolutionary War’: A Sino-Vietnamese Experiment?”
Christopher Goscha, Université du Québec à Montréal

“‘A New Threat to Mankind’: The Sino-Japanese War and the International Campaign against Aerial Terrorism”
Ke Ren, College of the Holy Cross

“Civilianizing War: Narratives of Homeland Protecting Citizens in Republican China”
Linh Vu, Arizona State University

“Ambivalent Fatherland: The Chinese National Salvation Movement in Malaya and Java, 1937-1941”
Kankan Xie, University of California, Berkeley