|Associate Professor (Modern Chinese History) in the Department of History|
I am a social and environmental historian of modern China. My research focusses upon the city of Wuhan and its rural hinterland, a region where I have lived and conducted research for over five years.
My monograph, entitled The Nature of Disaster in China, was the first major study of the 1931 Central China Flood, a largely forgotten catastrophe that killed in excess of two million people. In 2019 the American Historical Association awarded this monograph the John K. Fairbanks Prize for an outstanding book in East Asian History.
I have also published on a range of other topics including the (mis)management of disasters under Mao Zedong, the fate of environmental religion in modern China, and the impact of industrialisation on urban fire.
My current research focusses on the problem of heat in modern Chinese cities. I explore how emergent technologies such as ice factories, electic fans, and air conditioning transformed the cultural and social landscape of Wuhan. This is part of a broader collaborative project with urban researchers from Singapore, India, Japan and Korea, which is designed to examine the problem of urban heat islands in the past, present and future.
I welcome enquiries from students interested in studying the history of modern China or the environment at MA or PhD level. Durham boasts a wealth of material on these subjects across its library, archive and museum collections.
- Thinking East Asia
- Courtney, Chris (2019). The Nature of Disaster in China: The 1931 Yangzi River Flood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Chapter in book
- Courtney, Chris (2016). Governing Disasters: A Comparative Analysis of the 1931, 1954 and 1998 Middle-Yangzi Floods in Hubei. In Governance, Domestic Change, and Social Policy in China. 67.
- Williamson, Fiona & Courtney, Chris (2018). Disasters Fast and Slow: The Temporality of Hazards in Environmental History. International Review of Environmental History 4(2): 5-11.
- Courtney, Chris (2018). The Tinderbox City: The Industrialisation of Fire Disasters in Hankou, China, 1849–1944. International Review of Environmental History 4(2): 69-91.
- Courtney, Chris (2018). At War with Water: The Maoist state and the 1954 Yangzi floods. Modern Asian Studies 52(06): 1807-1836.
- Courtney, Chris (2016). Review of 'The Rise of Political Intellectuals in Modern China: May Fourth Societies and the Roots of Mass-Party Politics'. Reviews in History
- Courtney, Chris (2015). The Dragon King and the 1931 Wuhan Flood: Religious Rumors and Environmental Disasters in Republican China. Twentieth-Century China 40(2): 83.