Victor Seow (萧建业) is a historian of technology, science, and industry. He specializes in China and Japan in the long twentieth century and in histories of energy and work. At the core, his research revolves around questions of how technoscientific developments intersect with economic life and environmental change in the making and unmaking of industrial society.
Victor is the author of Carbon Technocracy: Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2022), a study of the deep links between energy extraction and technocratic politics through the history of what was once East Asia’s largest coal mine. In delving into the origins of fossil-fueled development in China and Japan, this book unearths both the dominant role of the state in energy transitions toward coal and oil and the enduring reliance on human labor power in the carbon age.
At present, Victor is researching and writing his second book, tentatively titled Human Factors: The Science of Work and the Nature of Labor. Through a history of industrial psychology in China from the 1930s to the present, this book asks how work became a subject of scientific inquiry and how the sciences of work shaped and have been shaped by wider societal discourses about the meaning and value of labor.
He is also engaged in two collaborative projects: one on Mr. Science in May Fourth China and beyond (co-led with Sean Hsiang-lin Lei of Academia Sinica); the other on technologies of production and estates of knowledge in East Asia (co-led with Dagmar Schäfer of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science).
At Harvard, Victor offers a range of courses on the history of science and technology in China and East Asia and on topics related to industrial society more broadly, such as the history of the factory and the sciences of work. He advises graduate students working on science and technology in China, Japan, and Korea as well as those focusing on other geographical areas who are interested in the intersections of technology, capitalism, and the environment. He also serves on the Standing Committee for the PhD in History and East Asian Languages.
With the support of the Harvard University Asia Center, Victor convenes the Science and Technology in Asia seminar series, which showcases some of the latest and most exciting work in the history and social studies of science, technology, medicine, and the environment centered on East, South, and Southeast Asia.
Born and raised in Singapore, Victor received his BA in History and Political Science from McGill University and his PhD in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University. Before joining the Harvard faculty in 2017, he was an assistant professor of history at Cornell University. You can follow him on Twitter at @EastAsiaSciTech.
(with Hongyun Lyu) “Moving Mountains: Industrial and Environmental Transformations in the Rise and Recession of ‘China’s Detroit,’” The Korean Journal for the History of Science 43.2 (September 2021): 341–373.
“Lishixue zhong de nengyuan: yi ge wenxian zongsu” 历史学中的能源：一个文献综述 (Energy in historiography: a survey of scholarship), in Zhu Yingui and Yang Daqing, eds., Shijie nengyuan shi zhong de Zhongguo: dansheng, yanbian, liyong ji qi yingxiang 世界能源史中的中国：诞生、演变、利用及其影响 (China in the global history of energy: origins, transformations, uses, and their effects) (Shanghai: Fudan University Press, 2020).
“Sites of Extraction: Perspectives from a Japanese Coal Mine in Northeast China,” Environmental History 24 (2019): 504–513.