University of California, Riverside

Faculty Profile System

David Biggs

David Biggs

Associate Professor

6600 Humanities
(951) 827-1877

Research Areas

  • History


  • Ph.D. University of Washington, Seattle, 2004
  • M.A. University of Washington, Seattle, 1998
  • B.A. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, 1992


David Biggs received his BA in History from the University of North Carolina in 1992 and then left behind his worldly possessions to become a volunteer English teacher in Vietnam. He discovered an affinity for Vietnamese culture and places, especially rural villages, while working with Volunteers in Asia, a non-profit that sends American college grads to teach in Asian colleges. This experience led him to study Vietnam’s environmental history at the University of Washington from 1996 to 2004. As a graduate student, he received several grants and awards including two Fulbrights and a Blakemore Fellowship.

His dissertation and first book examined social and environmental dimensions of water control in the Mekong Delta, an area plagued with colonialism and several wars in the twentieth century. His book  Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta (University of Washington, 2011), examines the intersections of politics and nature along the waterways of the Mekong Delta from the days of the French colonial conquest in the 1860s to the battles of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and after. Both an environmental and a political history, he argues for a deeper appreciation of the ways ecology figures into such efforts as nation-building and national independence. Often, schemes fall short of their intended social or political goals. This book received the George Perkins Marsh Award in 2012 for the best book in environmental history.

David’s work has appeared in edited volumes and such journals as Environmental HistoryTechnology & CultureComparative Technology Transfer & Society, andBioscience. His work has been featured in area newspapers, and he regularly contributes to public radio and other venues on issues related to Vietnam and environmental history.


  • Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta (University of Washington Press), 288 pp.
  • “Aerial Photography and its Role in Shifting Colonial Discourse on Peasants and Land Management in Late-Colonial Indochina 1930-1945” in Karen Oslund, Niels Brimnes, Christina Folke Ax, Niklas Thode Jensen, Eds. Cultivating the Colony: Colonial States and their Environmental Legacies (Athens OH: Ohio University Press), 29 mss. pp.
  • “Americans in An Giang: Nation Building and the Particularities of Place in the Mekong Delta, 1966–1973,” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 4:3 (October 2009), 139-172.
  • David Biggs, Fiona Miller and Hoanh C. Thai. “Making and Unmaking the Vietnamese Mekong Delta: Water Management in Historical and Contemporary Perspective” in Francois Molle, Tira Foran, Mira Kakonen, Eds. Contested Waterscapes in the Mekong Region Hydropower, Livelihoods and Governance (London UK: Earthscan, 2009), 203-226.
  • “Water Power: Machines, Modernizers, and Meta-Commoditization on the Mekong River in Joseph Nevins, Nancy Lee Peluso, Eds. Taking Southeast Asia to Market: Commodification in a Neoliberal Age (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2008), 108-123.
  • “Breaking from the Colonial Mold: Water Engineering and Nation-Building in the Plain of Reeds, Vietnam,” Technology and Culture 49: 3, July 2008.
  • “Reclamation Nations: The US Bureau of Reclamation and Nation-Building in the Mekong Valley: 1945-1972,” Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 4:3 (December 2006), 225-246.
  • “Managing a Rebel Landscape: Conservation, Pioneers, and the Revolutionary Past in the U Minh Forest, Vietnam,” in Environmental History, Vol. 10, No. 3 (July 2005), pp. 448-476.
  • “Problematic Progress: Reading Environmental and Social Change on the Vinh Te Canal in the Western Mekong Delta.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, February 2003.

More Information 

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Department Information

School of Public Policy
4133 CHASS Interdisciplinary South

Tel: (951) 827-5564


Last Modified: 7/27/15