Sakura Christmas is a historian of modern Japan. Her research concerns the history of borderlands, environment, and imperialism in the twentieth century. She received her A.B. and Ph.D. in History from Harvard University, and a Japanese Studies certificate from Kyoto University. She has spent over a decade total living, studying, and working in Japan, China, and Mongolia. This includes a year each as a Princeton-in-Asia fellow in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and a Fulbright researcher in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. She joined the faculty at Bowdoin in 2015.
My dissertation focuses on what I call “colonial land regimes” in Inner Mongolia, examining the meanings of the earth, land, and territory, and their changing value during the first half of the twentieth century. We cannot, I contend, fully explain the history of the Japanese empire nor its ramifications today until we account for its frontiers, and nowhere more so than the border regions of Manchuria and Mongolia, the area formerly known as “the Mongol Lands” under Japanese rule. By the height of their occupation in the late 1930s, the Japanese brought an unprecedented precision to the problem of colonial control in the region, defining the edge of the empire through intensive agriculture, aerial surveys, forced settlements, and scientific research. I argue that, in the course of identifying the ends of empire, this territorial transformation thrust the region into the central processes of global capitalism and scientific exchange. At the same time, this transformation marginalized the Mongol Lands and its inhabitants, where nomadic life became increasingly untenable in a modernizing landscape. The interaction between nomads, hunter-gatherers, migrants, and scientists in the region adds an Asian dimension to such important themes in world history as: the formation of frontiers, the incorporation of transient people into emergent states, and the role of “excavating sciences” in imperial enterprise. The change that these sciences wrought on the Mongol Lands was dramatic—transforming it from what the Japanese perceived as a timeless cycle to a progressive trajectory and from a flat plane to three-dimensional strata. This reconstitution of time and space not only allowed Japanese to stake a claim in cutting-edge research, but also helped them situate the Mongol Lands within the larger imperial framework.