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Environments Under Empire: New Materials and Changing Landscapes in the Japanese Colonization of Korea

Sat, March 17, 8:30 to 10:00am, Riverside Convention Center, MR 7

Session Submission Type: Panel


Previous studies of the intersection of colonialism and environmental change have largely focused on the interactions between Europe and its colonies. This panel seeks to illuminate another side in the history of empire and environmental change—that of the Japanese empire and its expansion in Korea. In particular, this panel will focus on colonialism as an impetus for cultural and material interaction and exchange, with three papers each examining the introduction of a new material or species to the Korean peninsula. David Fedman explores the introduction of the sawtooth oak within a wider discourse on sustainability and fuel consumption; Holly Stephens discusses the promotion of a new species of cotton—American upland cotton—and associated changes within the Korean countryside; and Tristan Grunow presents the history of asphalt as part of a larger story of imperial strategies of the built environment. In each case, the authors consider how the introduction of a new material or crop contributed to wider processes of environmental change within an imperial context mediated by colonial institutions, be they intellectual and cultural judgements of what constituted the “correct” management of the environment; a colonial bureaucracy that sought to create an economically productive countryside; or the product of urban planning that inscribed symbols of imperial power into the urban landscape. Taken together, these papers complement and expand upon the previous literature, highlighting the central role of both environmental change and Japanese colonialism within the rise of modern Asia.

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