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Stephen R. Halsey’s scholarship and teaching focus on the intersection of state power, economic development, and environmental change in late imperial and modern China (1850–present).  He completed his doctoral work in history at the University of Chicago but also studied foreign affairs at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  Before coming to Miami, he held the Alice Kaplan Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities at Northwestern University and participated in an interdisciplinary teaching program called “The Great Society.”


Halsey’s first book, Quest for Power: European Imperialism and the Making of Chinese Statecraft (Harvard University Press, 2015; Chinese translation, CITIC Press, 2018), historicizes China’s rise to great power status in the twentieth century.  He argues that a military fiscal-state emerged in China between 1850 and 1949 because of the continuing danger of war with the great powers.  This form of political organization combined money, bureaucracy, and guns in new ways and helped to ensure the country’s survival during the apogee of Western colonialism.  Military-fiscal states in Europe and Asia represent variations on a common global theme, their political structures drawn together to a certain extent through a contingent process of historical convergence.  In contrast to the conventional story of “a century of humiliation,” Halsey contends that China achieved considerable success in the search for power, laying the foundation for its growing international influence since 1949.

Halsey is currently completing a second book manuscript entitled Prometheus Bound: Environmental Crisis and the Developmental State in Modern China.  This project consists of four case studies that use the traditional "elements" of rock, water, earth, and air to evaluate competing developmental approaches in China during the twentieth century.  These include a modernist paradigm that emphasized capital, technology, technocracy, and fossil fuel energy regimes and an involutionary strategy that relied on inefficient and inexpensive human labor.  Both imposed high environmental costs, and neither reckoned with the power of non-human Others such as rivers, microbes, and even minerals to produce unanticipated and often unfavorable outcomes.  In fact, these non-human Others tended to inscribe themselves on human bodies, “communicating” with Homo sapiens through the language of pain.  Coal dust and silicates embedded themselves in miners’ lungs, fouled water made both herders and their livestock sick in Inner Mongolia, and factory workers in Guangdong inhaled unhealthy quantities of soot and PM 2.5 particles.  In a metaphorical sense, an abused and exploited earth itself attempted to communicate through various forms of dramatic violence, as mines exploded, rivers flooded, and top soils blew away and created desert landscapes in a few short years.  This study not only presents the first thematic portrait of China’s development during the entire course of the twentieth century but tells the story from this more-than-human perspective.  The concluding section of the manuscript also enables history to speak to policy by proposing an indigenous philosophical basis for green forms of development in China. 


Halsey has received a number of fellowships in support of his research, including the Rachel Carson Center Fellowship, the Taiwan Fellowship, the Fulbright Senior Scholar Grant (China), the Fulbright-Hays DDRA Fellowship, the Blakemore Foundation Language Grant, the Blakemore Foundation Language Refresher Grant, the Foreign Language and Area Studies Grant, and the Earhart Foundation Fellowship.  He also maintains an active interest in policy issues and has written policy studies on fiscal, monetary, and environmental problems in contemporary China for consulting firms and government agencies.  When he is not in an archive or a classroom, you might find him in a ger camp in the Mongolian steppe or on the battlements of a German castle.

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