Victor Louzon is the 2016-2017 International Network to Expand Regional and Collaborative Teaching (INTERACT) Postdoctoral Scholar at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. Professor Louzon holds his PhD from Sciences Po. He received his undergraduate training at SciencesPo, the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales(Paris), and the University of British Columbia (Vancouver). He was a visiting graduate student at Qinghua (Beijing), NCCU (Taibei) and was a Fox Fellow and Fulbright doctoral student at Yale University. Professor Louzon originally specialized in modern Chinese history, but his research interests now extend to war and political violence in East Asia in the 20th century, and to contemporary tensions in the region. His PhD dissertation deals with the 1947 “February 28th” rebellion against Chinese Kuomintang rule in Taiwan, considered as an aftershock of the Sino-Japanese War.
Read below for a Q&A about Professor Louzon’s research and teaching interests:
1. What led you to become a scholar of Chinese history?
Chance. I decided to learn Chinese as a freshman, out of mere curiosity for the language. The instructor turned out to be terrific and got me fascinated with Chinese culture and society. I decided to combine my interest in the humanities and social sciences with my budding passion for China, and here I am.
2. How did you decide to focus your dissertation on the “February 28” Incident in Taiwan?
When I embarked on the PhD program, my goal was to study the mechanisms of political violence in the aftermath of World War 2, during the Civil War period. An analysis of political violence at the grassroots requires access to sensitive and often inaccessible archival material. A project on the “February 28 Incident” seemed both practically feasible—the sources are mostly located in Taiwan—and highly relevant to the present day, because the event pertains to Sino-Taiwanese and Sino-Japanese relations, and to the legacy of World War 2 in a broader East Asian context.
3. What kinds of questions tend to drive your research and teaching?
In Jean Renoir’s classic film The Rules of the Game, there is a famous line that goes: “The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons.” I guess this is what I’m most interested in: the reasons that drive people to act, sometimes to do awful things, which nevertheless appear logical to them. The tragic dimension of history lies in the fact that these reasons are diverse, often incompatible, and sometimes incommensurable. This is of course a perilous intellectual endeavor, particularly when dealing with such painful subjects as political violence: we must avoid lapsing into relativism. But I do believe a historian has the duty to try and understand the motivations of historical acts, even when they are criminal. Only then can he pass an informed moral judgment. This is what I would like to convey to my students.
4. What aspects of being at Columbia particularly excite you?
The concentration of talented scholars of modern history specializing in different areas of the world. It is a privilege to enjoy both an exciting work environment in East Asian studies and opportunities to engage with a broader, vibrant academic community.
5. Can you tell us a little about the classes you teaching this academic year?
This fall (2016), I am teaching a seminar course called East Asia in the Long Cold War, where I try to give the students a sense of how East Asian history and the Cold War—a Western business at first—became entangled with one another. Next spring, I will go back in time and teach the history of empires in the making of Modern East Asia, from the late Qing period to the end of World War 2: this course will end where the previous one began.