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Exploring academic Hong Kong

March 29, 2013

The past two weeks I have spent as a guest researcher at Hong Kong Baptist University’s excellent Department of Geography. Daphne Mah, a talented assistant professor with research interests that largely overlap with – or rather nicely complement – mine, had generously invited me. I gave a seminar at the department on one of the topics I’m currently working on, “The purpose of smart grids” (part of my FORMAS-funded project), and a guest lecture relating directly to an article that I’m writing, “Energy as a foreign policy tool” (this is a spin-off from my book Red Gas) in the course Energy Policy and Analysis. As it turned out, Daphne was not the only one with a great interest in energy at the department, which turned out to host a substantial share of Hong Kong’s overall energy-related research. Yu Xiaojiang, for example, an associate professor, has published extensively on energy developments in a variety of Asian countries, whereas Larry Chow, a visiting professor, is Hong Kong’s grand old man in the field of energy studies, with a particular interest in the international oil trade and oil price formation over longer periods of time.

I also paid a visit to the tiny but growing University of Macau, an hour’s boat trip away from central Hong Kong, where I met Oscar Sanchez-Sibony, an American-educated assistant professor originally at home in Spain, and several of his colleagues at the Department of History. Oscar has written a highly interesting dissertation, “Red Globalization: The Political Economy of Soviet Foreign Relations” and we had a lot to talk about regarding the relations between Soviet energy and foreign relations in the Cold War era. Another historian based in Macau is Michael Share, whose book “Where Empires Collided“ (2007) deals with Russo-Soviet relations with Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwain, and who is currently using Russian and British sources to shed new light on the relations between the Russian, British and Chinese empires in Xinjiang.

In Hong Kong one of the most dynamic environments in terms of research is clearly the young Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Hong Kong. It is led by Professor Angela Leung, who turned out to be very keen on making interdisciplinary STS and historical studies an essential component of the institute’s fields of excellence. A number of top historians of technology, notably Francesca Bray and Lynn White, belong to the institute’s honorary professors. A major emphasis is on the history of medicine, and there are close links between the institute and HKU’s Centre for Humanities and Medicine, which is led by Robert Peckham. Although my own research so far has rarely touched on medicine, I was struck in my discussion with Angela and Robert by the multifaceted ways in which imperial and global histories can be viewed and interpreted through the lens of medicine and hygiene, and I felt inspired to rethink the ways in which world-wide circulation of energy and natural resources could be linked to these topics.

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