An Environmental History of the Japanese American Incarceration
Oxford University Press 2018
The history of Japanese American incarceration during World War II is a well-known topic in American history and has been the subject of countess books and articles. In Nature Behind Barbed Wire: An Environmental History of the Japanese American Incarceration (Oxford University Press, 2018), Connie Chiang reveals hidden layers of the experiences of Japanese Americans interned by their government during the 1940s. Chiang, a professor of history and environmental studies at Bowdoin College, argues that the non-human environment mediated every facet of the detainees lives from their labor to their recreation to the feelings of isolation and despondency they felt. Many of the thousands forcibly removed to incarceration camps had moved from the verdant Pacific coast to the stark deserts and mountains of the interior West. This movement from one climate to another profoundly influenced the meaning and experience of incarceration and provoked emotions ranging from sadness and betrayal to resilience and even occasional joy. Chiang’s book is an excellent reminder of environmental history’s power to reveal new stories about old histories.