Stephen Halsey

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR

Ph.D., University of Chicago (2007)

E-mail: s.halsey@miami.edu
Office: Rm. 608 Ashe
Phone: (305) 284-2144
Fields of Interest: China, Environmental History, Economic History, Colonialism, Global History


ABOUT

Stephen R. Halsey’s research and teaching focus on modern China but also engage the fields of environmental history, economic history, comparative colonialism, and global history.  He completed his doctoral work at the University of Chicago and has also studied at National Taiwan University and Beijing 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), analyzes the origins of China’s rise to great power status in the twentieth century.  The author argues that the threat of European and Japanese imperialism triggered the most innovative state-building efforts since the foundation of the last ruling dynasty in the mid 1600s.  This claim casts doubt on the entire interpretive thrust of existing historical accounts of China during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, questioning their story of decline, weakness, and failure.  Halsey instead 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.  As the colonial powers transplanted their competitive international order to East Asia in the 1800s, China replicated many features of European states through conscious imitation and independent trial and error.  Military-fiscal states in these different regions represent variations on a common global theme, their political structures drawn together to a certain extent through a contingent process of historical convergence.  Leading officials soon came to describe their reformist policies through a new vocabulary of sovereignty, a European concept that has served as a cornerstone of Chinese statecraft since the late 1860s.  In short, China achieved remarkable success in the search for power in the late imperial (1850-1911) and the Republican eras (1911-1949), laying the foundation for its growing international influence since 1949.

Halsey is currently working on a second book project entitled Lost Harmonies?: Environmental Governance and the Legacy of the Chinese Past.  It examines the intersection of economic development and environmental management in China from 1870 to 2014, contending that the present government has inherited its worst practices from the late imperial (1870-1911) and Republican eras (1911-49).  Successive regimes have embraced a Promethean political ecology, an unusually strong drive to transform the natural world in ways that enhance state power.  This particular approach has produced an anthropogenic, or man-made, landscape in China that remains vulnerable to rapid and systemic deterioration.  His analysis focuses on continuities in both government policies and the institutional mechanisms that have supervised the country’s natural resources.  Halsey’s argument challenges social scientific work that attributes the country’s pollution, deforestation, and flooding problems to rapid industrial development since 1978.  In contrast, he identifies the deep past as the source of China’s current crisis, emphasizing in particular the role of the state as environmental (mis)manager.

Halsey teaches courses in each of his major fields and has held fellowships with the Fulbright-Hays program, the Blakemore Foundation, FLAS, and the Earhart Foundation.  Prior to his enrollment at the University of Chicago, Halsey earned an interdisciplinary degree in diplomacy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School and subsequently served as an analyst of US foreign relations in Boston, MA.  He retains an active interest in contemporary policy issues and has regularly conducted seminars in Mandarin on the American government and economy for visiting delegations of Chinese party cadres.