Join us for our Author Spotlight Series featuring Harvard historian of science, Dr. Victor Seow. Dr. Seow will be discussing his new book Carbon Technocracy, a study of the relationship between energy and power through the history of China’s former Coal Capital. He will be joined in conversation by Harvard Extension School instructor, Harvard Review editor, and award-winning author, Dr. Christina Thompson.
About the book:
The coal-mining town of Fushun in China’s Northeast is home to a monstrous open pit, once the largest in East Asia. Early in the twentieth century, Japanese technocrats started excavating this cavity with the goal of accessing the purportedly “inexhaustible” carbon resources that lay underfoot. Today, amid our unfolding climate crisis, it stands as a wondrous and terrifying monument to fantasies of a fossil-fueled future and the technologies mobilized to turn those developmentalist dreams into reality.
Carbon Technocracy charts how modern states became embroiled in such projects of intensive energy extraction, driven as they were by concerns over economic growth, resource scarcity, and national autarky. It follows the experiences of Chinese and Japanese bureaucrats and planners, geologists and mining engineers, and labor contractors and miners to uncover the deep links between the raw materiality of the coal face and the corridors of power in Tokyo, Nanjing, Beijing, and beyond.
In Fushun’s history, we are confronted with hubristic attempts to tame and transform nature through technology, the misplaced valorization of machines over human beings, and productivist pursuits that strained both the environment from which coal was extracted and the many workers on whom that extractive process so deeply depended. These were all defining features of the energy regime of carbon technocracy and our wider industrial modern world that it helped create—and that we must now remake.
You can pick up a copy of Carbon Technocracy from the University of Chicago Press (use the promo code CARBONTECH at checkout for a 30% discount and free shipping [offer expires March 9]). This book is also available from most online book retailers.
About the author:
Dr. Victor Seow is assistant professor of the history of science at Harvard University. He is a historian of technology, science, and industry, specializing in China and Japan and in histories of energy and work. He received his BA from McGill University and his PhD from Harvard University. Before joining the Harvard faculty in 2017, he was assistant professor of history at Cornell University. He is the author of Carbon Technocracy (Chicago, 2022). At present, he is writing a book on the sciences of work for which he is completing coursework toward an ALM with a concentration in industrial-organizational psychology at the Harvard Extension School. You can follow him on Twitter at @EastAsiaSciTech.
About the discussant:
Dr. Christina Thompson is the author two books: Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia (Harper, 2019), which won the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, and the NSW Premier’s General History Award, and Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All (Bloomsbury, 2008), which was a finalist for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and the NSW Premier’s Literary Award. A dual citizen of the US and Australia, she has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Australia Council. She currently serves as editor of Harvard Review and teaches writing at the Harvard Extension School. She is on Twitter at @cathompsn.