Skip to content Skip to navigation

Joseph Seeley

Joseph Seeley

East Asia
B.A. Brigham Young University, summa cum laude
A.S. Dixie State College, summa cum laude

I am a historian of modern East Asia. My work interrogates the boundaries that have traditionally separated the historiographies of Japan, China, and Korea by using multilingual archives and examining transnational phenomena of imperialism and ecological change. 

My dissertation examines competing attempts to transform and control the Yalu River boundary between Korea and China during a period of Japanese imperial expansion (1894-1945). More than a mere backdrop to the region's history, the river environment was a co-agent of border creation and contestation alongside local human residents. A focus on what I call the liquid geography of the Yalu border shows how the river subverted attempts to control the Sino-Korean border region while enabling the fluid movements of multiethnic smugglers, anti-Japanese guerrillas, timber-cutters, and fishermen.

As part of this project I propose a new, seasonal approach to history that recaptures the visceral experience of daily life and state power in the region. This dissertation reveals how border engineering and surveillance ran aground on winter ice, summer floods, and other aspects of a seasonally changing riparian geography. Recapturing this seasonal contingency, I argue, is vital for understanding the limits of modern state power in Asia.

I am also currently working on a co-authored article about Japanese colonial zoos in Seoul and Taipei. The article examines how nationalists in colonial Korea or Taiwan variously criticized zoos' excesses or identified the bondage of caged animals with their own experience as colonized subjects. Japanese-built zoos, however, enjoyed immense popularity, as thousands of colonized Taiwanese, Koreans, and Japanese settlers alike visited zoos in large numbers. The complicated legacies of the period continue to the present, as contemporary zoos in Taipei and Seoul choose to variously commemorate or efface their colonial origins.

Personal Website:

Previous publications:

co-authored with Aaron Skabelund, "Tigers--Real and Imagined--in Korea's Physical and Cultural Landscape," Environmental History, Vol. 20, No. 3 (July 2015): 475–503.

co-authored with Kirk Larsen, "Simple Conversation or Secret Treaty?: The Taft-Katsura Memorandum in Korean Historical Memory, Journal of Korean Studies, Volume 19, Number 1, 59-92.