Dr. James Sedgwick
Kwe’! Pjila’si! We are all treaty people, and I am honoured and humbled to live, learn, and teach in Mi'kma'ki, the unceded ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq nation. I was born and raised in Toronto (Tkaronto) in the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples. After high school, family roots brought me to Atlantic Canada as an undergraduate student. I completed a BA (Honours) in History from Acadia in 2002. Next, I did an MA in History from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2004 and then a PhD in History from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 2012. That same year I lucked into a five-month contract that brought me back to Wolfville. I have taught in the Department of History and Classics ever since.
My teaching interests situate modern East Asia in a global or transnational context. This includes courses on global history, imperial and modern China, feudal and modern Japan, oceans and empires of the North Pacific, and the global pacific. I also teach courses on the history of medicine and genocide & justice, and am developing future offerings on the humanitarian impulse, gender crimes, de-centered East Asia, transcultural exchange along the Silk Road, and oceans and empires of the Indian Ocean Basin.
My research interests explore catastrophe and response: how individuals and institutions confront natural and humanitarian disasters. Institutional approaches to these problems (e.g. relief efforts, courts, NGOs, intergovernmental bodies to address famine, slavery, drugs, conflict, and mass violence) tend to be viewed as largely political bodies. By focusing on social, cultural, institutional, as well as political processes, my work reinterprets international organisations as sites of intense experience and multi-dimensional negotiation behind the scenes rather than sedate fora of power politics, naive idealism, ponderous bureaucracy, or broken dreams.
TEACHING & PEDAGOGY
My philosophy follows four core principles: be open, be responsive, foster empathy, and inspire engagement. In practise, this approach means encouraging students to analyse, synthesise, and question course material through as many different interpretive lenses as possible. It means promoting an inclusive atmosphere in class, with flexible lesson plans designed to address multiple learning styles. It means channeling the emotive potential of course materials into deep and compassionate reflection, analysis, and (where interested) community advocacy and engagement. This includes teaching broadly applicable skills such as verbal and written communication, creativity, inquisitiveness, critical thinking, and open-mindedness. I would like to be remembered as a teacher who cared for both personal and academic development; a mentor who introduced students to new perspectives in school and beyond.
Although I apply this philosophy to all my teaching, supervision of honours theses and other special project best reflects my core principles in action.
Elida Jiayin Liu, “Becoming ‘Emperors’: Two Extraordinary Emperors from the Classical Roman World versus the Non-Classical Chinese World: A Comparison of Augustus and Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperors of their Own Empire/Dynasty.” (Co-supervisor, thesis, with Sonia Hewitt) – 2020-2021
Chen Xiaoman, “Jiang Zhongzheng’s ‘New Life Movement’ and the Rule of Li (禮), 1934-1949” (research article thesis) – 2017-2018
- Mercedes Peters, “‘A Respectable Solution to the Indian Problem’: Canadian Genocidal Intent, Non-Physical Conceptions of Destruction and Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq 1867-1970” (Co-supervisor, thesis, with Stephen Henderson) – 2015-2016
- Alex Quesnel, “American Diplomacy through the Lens of Non-State Actors: The China Hands, The China Lobby, and the Chinese Civil War” (thesis) – 2014-2015
- Yuan Jianda, “‘I Want to Like a Fire’: Resisting Russian and Japanese Imperialism in Manchuria, 1895-1945” (thesis) – 2013-2014
Sarah Atkinson, “‘You Would Hardly Know it to Look at Them’: Visual Representations of Colonialism in Bessie Lockhart’s Scrapbooks” (archival thesis, supervisor: Gillian Poulter) – 2015-2016
- Will Cann, “Leaps of Faith: Effectiveness of Airborne Operations in World War II” (thesis, supervisor: Paul Doerr) – 2013-2014
Virtual Democracy Wall. Beijing activists in the 1980s wrote so-called “Big Character Posters” on what became known as the “Democracy Wall”. After reading examples from these protests and watching documentary footage on the ensuing political crackdown, students in my HIST 3563: Modern China class created a “Virtual Democracy Wall” of historically reflexive protest posters of their own.
- Communities of Healing: Social Networks, Imagined Suffering, and the Humanitarian Impulse. Since 2015, student research assistants have combed the Acadia archives to create a database of alumni graduates who went ‘abroad’ as missionaries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
- Maple League Reader – Undergraduate Reflections on Genocide and Justice. Students in my Winter 2018 Maple League telepresence class on Genocide & Justice produced an anthology of student research from previous iterations of the course.
- Badges of Honour: Symbols of Power from Qing Dynasty China. Students in my HIST 2563: Imperial China students explore rare Qing dynasty ‘rank badges’ or ‘mandarin squares’ from the Acadia Art Gallery’s vault. Working with Dr. Laurie Dalton, the project has culminated with pop-up exhibits and screened slideshows at the Art Gallery where students acted as historical interpreters and guides for their respective textiles.