Stephen R Halsey

Assoc. Professor

(305) 284-2144
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Stephen R. Halsey’s scholarship and teaching focus on the intersection of state power, economic development, and environmental change in late imperial and modern China (1850–present).  He completed his doctoral work in history at the University of Chicago but also studied foreign affairs at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts 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, 2015; Chinese translation, CITIC Press, 2018), historicizes China’s rise to great power status in the twentieth century.  He 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 both conscious imitation and independent trial and error.  Military-fiscal states in Europe and Asia represent variations on a common global theme, their political structures drawn together to a certain extent through a contingent process of historical convergence.  In contrast to the conventional story of “a century of humiliation,” Halsey contends that China achieved considerable success in the search for power in the late imperial (1850-1911) and the Republican eras (1911-1949) and laid the foundation for its growing international influence since 1949.

Halsey is currently completing a second book manuscript entitled Prometheus Bound: Environmental Crisis and the Developmental State in Modern China.  It uses the “elements” of minerals, water, soil, and air to examine the environmental constraints on China’s growth during the twentieth century.  The analysis takes seriously the historical agency of these “natural” forces and the ways that they intersected with state structures and developmental planning in modern China.  Halsey argues that two developmental approaches gave practical expression to the quest for material power, coexisting in an uneasy tension throughout the twentieth century.  Successive Chinese governments typically preferred to pursue the “modernist developmentalism” implemented on a global scale during the last hundred years.  Its principal features included (1) the adoption of a fossil fuel energy regime (2) the use of technocratic planning (3) state management of the “commanding heights” of the economy (4) the quest for capital-intensive industrialization and (5) the promotion of modernizing ideologies that emphasized the conquest of nature.  Yet ecological constraints in place before the onset of modern growth repeatedly forced the Chinese state over the past century to employ an “involutionary developmentalism” defined by low-tech, low-cost, labor-intensive principles.  Both approaches helped to create an anthropogenic landscape in China that remains susceptible to rapid deterioration in almost any location.  Only during the current reform era (1978-present) has the Chinese Prometheus escaped his chains but, in the process, created an entirely new set of environmental challenges. 

Halsey has received a number of fellowships in support of his research.  These include: the Rachel Carson Center Fellowship, the Taiwan Fellowship, the Fulbright Senior Scholar Grant (China), the Fulbright-Hays DDRA Fellowship, the Blakemore Foundation Language Grant, the Blakemore Foundation Language Refresher Grant, the Foreign Language and Area Studies Grant, and the Earhart Foundation Fellowship.  He also maintains an active interest in policy issues and has written policy studies on fiscal, monetary, and environmental problems in contemporary China for consulting firms and government agencies.  You might find him in the Mongolian steppe or a Bavarian castle when he is not in an archive or a classroom.


LIST OF SPECIALTIES: China, Environmental History, Economic History, Colonialism, Global History


Stephen Halsey Quest for Power: European Imperialism and the Making of Chinese Statecraft (Harvard University Press. ). [Link]