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The Department of History


Congratulations to UW History graduate student Ross Coen, whose new book Fu-Go: The Curious History of Japan's Balloon Bomb Attack on America has just be published by University of Nebraska Press.

The timing of Ross's book is impeccable: earlier this month, one of these Japanese balloons (with intact bomb) was found in rural British Columbia. This was the first discovery anywhere in North America since the 1960s.

Ross's book is published as part of the "Studies in War, Society, and the Military Series," edited by Peter Maslowski, David Graff, and Reina Pennington. Below is the publisher's description of Fu-Go:

Near the end of World War II, in an attempt to attack the United States mainland, Japan launched its fu-go campaign, deploying thousands of high-altitude hydrogen balloons armed with incendiary and high-explosive bombs designed to follow the westerly winds of the upper atmosphere and drift to the west coast of North America. After reaching the mainland, these fu-go, the Japanese hoped, would terrorize American citizens and ignite devastating forest fires across the western states, ultimately causing the United States to divert wartime resources to deal with the domestic crisis. While the fu-go offensive proved to be a complete tactical failure, six Americans lost their lives when a discovered balloon exploded.


Alice Newberry as Boudicca, first-century queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe

When UW History major Brittany Freedman arrived for the first session of this winter’s course on the Military History of the Ancient World, she expected to encounter the normal assortment of readings, exams and research papers. But she was surprised to discover that much of her grade would hinge on a very non-traditional assignment: a group project in which she and up to a dozen of her classmates would collaborate on a film depicting an important historical figure or event covered in the class. 

After some initial misgivings, Freedman—whose team portrayed the life of the Celtic queen Boudicca—found that the unusual assignment inspired the class to dive into the past in a whole new way. “This kind of project takes you past the names and dates, to allow you to learn more about the culture and human experiences of the past,” she noted. At the same time, she also liked how the assignment helped her build connections with peers from other UW programs. “The use of different media helped people who aren’t normally so excited about history really engage with the class and with each other.” 

Instructor Mira Green, a recent UW History PhD, hoped for just such results when she designed the assignment. “With this project, I wanted to do three things,” Green recalled. “First, to create a vibrant community and a culture of talk within the class; second, to allow students to harness real-world skills, work as co-authors, and showcase their particular skills; and third, to encourage students to question the ways modern filmmakers appropriate the power of historical images.” In pursuit of these goals she designed the quarter-long multimedia assignment to include academic research, primary-source analysis, co-authored historical essays, and advertising collateral, along with the culminating film production.


As early modern Europe launched its multiple projects of global empire, it simultaneously embarked on an ambitious program of describing and picturing the world. The shapes and meanings of the extraordinary global images that emerged from this process form the subject of this highly original and richly textured study of cultural geography. Inventing Exoticism draws on a vast range of sources from history, literature, science, and art to describe the energetic and sustained international engagements that gave birth to our modern conceptions of exoticism and globalism.