Graduate Student Profiles

UC Irvine Humanities Hall

Matthew Combs

Cohort Year: 2011
B.A., University of California San Diego, 2003, History with Emphasis in East Asia
M.A., San Diego State University, 2011, History

Curriculum Vitae

Advisor: Dr. Jeffrey Wasserstrom
First Field: Modern China/ East Asia
Second Field: World History
Thematic Emphasis: Imperialism/Colonialism, Commodity studies, History of Science.

Dissertation Topic: The Supply Chain of Imperialism: Camphor, Plastic, and Photography in East Asia

Research Abstract:
My dissertation project explores the question of how an Asian commodity, camphor from the cinnamomum camphora tree native to China, Taiwan, and Japan, became an essential component in the invention of plastic, and rolled photographic film. The goal of my dissertation is to use the story of this commodity to illuminate the complex ways in which mechanisms of imperialism interacted with resource extraction, scientific and industrial innovation, and technological adoption.  It will show just how profoundly a commodity from tiny Taiwan helped change the world through its distribution in the imperialist supply chain. Using archival materials in Taiwan, China, and the United States, explores four processes: camphor extraction from Taiwan, the development of celluloid plastic in the United States, the use of celluloid to plasticize film and make it into rolls, and the adoption of this new film for photography and cinematography in East Asia.