David A. Biggs
Areas of specialization: Southeast Asia, Vietnam, environmental, science & technology, historical geography
David Biggs received his BA in History from the University of North Carolina in 1992 and then left behind his worldly possessions to become a volunteer English teacher in Vietnam. He discovered an affinity for Vietnamese culture and places, especially rural villages, while working with Volunteers in Asia, a non-profit that sends American college grads to teach in Asian colleges. This experience led him to study Vietnam’s environmental history at the University of Washington from 1996 to 2004. As a graduate student, he received several grants and awards including two Fulbrights and a Blakemore Fellowship.
His dissertation and first book examined social and environmental dimensions of water control in the Mekong Delta, an area plagued with colonialism and several wars in the twentieth century. His book, Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta (University of Washington, 2011), examines the intersections of politics and nature along the waterways of the Mekong Delta from the days of the French colonial conquest in the 1860s to the battles of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and after. Both an environmental and a political history, he argues for a deeper appreciation of the ways ecology figures into such efforts as nation-building and national independence. Often, schemes fall short of their intended social or political goals. This book received the George Perkins Marsh Award in 2012 for the best book in environmental history.
David's work has appeared in edited volumes and such journals as Environmental History, Technology & Culture, Comparative Technology Transfer & Society, and Bioscience. His work has been featured in area newspapers, and he regularly contributes to public radio and other venues on issues related to Vietnam and environmental history.
His current project, Military Wastelands, considers the long-term social and environmental impacts of military base construction and operation. Focusing on the large, highly destructive base operations of the U.S. military in the 1960s and 70s, this historical project considers the spread of military wastelands as a long-term, global problem in the twentieth century. He is a collaborator on two related projects, one using historical GIS to study land cover change in former battlefields and the other a diplomatic and environmental history of five counterinsurgency sites in Vietnam.
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