CFP/Call for panelists on East Asian transformation of Engineers/Merchants/Labour with a focus on Korean contexts (1850-1945)

Hailian Chen's picture
Call for Papers
Subject Fields: 
Business History / Studies, East Asian History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Korean History / Studies, Labor History / Studies

We are seeking a few panelists to present (either on-site or online) at the World Economic History Congress (WEHC), 25-29 July 2022, Paris.

The congress theme is “Resources.” Our accepted double-session panel is on the historical transformation of Human Resources (HR) in East Asia.

We also invite papers for our planned conference volume on the transformation of HR in East Asia, in case you cannot or will not attend the 2022 congress.

Panel title:

Transforming Knowledge and Human Resources into Wealth and Power: Comparative Perspectives on Engineers, Merchants and Labour in East Asia, 1850–1945   

Organisers & conference volume editors:

Dr. CHEN Hailian (University of Leipzig)

Prof. NAKAMURA Naofumi (University of Tokyo)

Dr. TSAI Weipin (University of London, Royal Holloway)

Panel description

Amidst unprecedented exploitation of resources at a global scale, the high tide of colonialism was accompanied by equally unprecedented creation of wealth, mobility of people and exchange of knowledge. What came along with this new order was an explosion in new technologies, in systems of production, and in transnational management of natural resources and labour. As Jürgen Osterhammel addressed in his renowned work, The Transformation of the World, these new global phenomena reshaped human space and human experience. However, such a grand exchange between West and East also generated an immense clash in culture, politics, and economic priorities: Western industrialisation was never translated into Eastern modernisation in a straightforward sense. This panel explores the historical context as well as the formal and informal processes by which resources and knowledge were transformed into various forms of systems and infrastructure, to long-lasting effect throughout East Asia.

Bringing more than ten papers together, the goal is to cast light on the multi-layered modernisation in the region from the late nineteenth century to the second half of the twentieth century from the aspects of natural and human resources, infrastructure and knowledge exchange. 

In order to explore how modern transformation in East Asia was made, our panel will particularly focus on the aspect of knowledge exchange, most notably in the areas of engineering expertise, cross-regional commercial management, and labour cultivation. These three categories all represent different aspects of human resource management in which the distinctive characteristics of modernisation in East Asia can be explored. Indeed, our panel considers ‘human resources’ as one of the most significant topics in the study of modernity, and we seek to examine this issue collectively by bringing together case studies on history of science and technology, trading or business history, and labour history. Through the lens of examining both soft and hard infrastructure initiated by governments or private agents, we attempt to present a “big picture” in the context of globalisation with strong local elements in modern East Asia. 

By contextualising our discussions in the frame of modern transformation, often associated with various crises, either from traditional empires to modern nation-states, or from traditional organisations to modern ones, we ask: why and how did the state or private sector create or restructure their respective infrastructure and systems? What was the impact of these innovations or revolutions, in terms of benefits and risks? And how did the people and groups involved deal with the crises and challenges that arose in the transformation?

Our goal is to provide a platform that will promote multidisciplinary discussion on this topic. We address how institutions and organisations, whether production or service focused, transformed their approach to human resources through development of professional expertise and managerial skills or through improved organisation of labour, and how this in turn contributed to the accumulation of wealth and power pursued by the state or by private actors.

Call for Panelists/Book-chapters

At this stage, we are particularly interested in contributions that inquire into the historical transformation of engineers, or merchants, or labour in Korean contexts during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including transnational and global approaches.

If you are working on related topics and are interested in our panel proposal, please reach out to Hailian Chen ( by 30 November 2021. We will provide further details of the proposed paper titles and abstracts to anyone interested.

A paper for the conference talk (ca. 8-10 pages) is required by April 2022. (

An online pre-meeting (in early 2022) and an edited conference volume are planned.

Scholars of all stages are welcome! We look forward to your proposal.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Contact Info: 

Hailian Chen