John Bassett


Advisors: Anne Hansen

John Bassett headshot


I am a historian of 20th and 21st century Southeast Asia, with a focus on economic history in the Philippines.

My dissertation explores the recent economic history of Davao City, the largest city on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The story of Davao’s economic transformation between the early 1980s and 2016 is one of the most consequential historical narratives in the Philippines today, credited with driving the successful campaign of the current Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte. That story describes how, over his two decades as City Mayor, Duterte transformed Davao from “Murder City” in the 1980s into one of the country’s most dynamic economies. The economic history underpinning this story, however, remains poorly understood. Drawing on an innovative set of methods from the fields of economics, history, and geography, my project aims to clear the fog from this consequential period and assess its long-term impact, including the lessons it might offer for other cities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America emerging from similar periods of political and economic turmoil.

In addition to my academic research, I work as a journalist and, previously, a documentary filmmaker. For more information, please see my personal website, which is listed above.


M.A. University of Wisconsin-Madison
B.A.; Harvard University


  • Southeast Asian History

MA Title

  • “Sources of Economic Growth in Davao City, 1980-2010”

Working Dissertation Title

  • “Narratives of Economic Revival in Davao City, 1970-2016”

Selected Publications

Selected Awards

  • Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Abroad Program, 2021
  • Fulbright US Student Program, 2021 (Alternate)
  • UW-Madison CSEAS Center Field Research Grant, 2021
  • UW-Madison History Department Summer Travel Grant, 2021
  • UW-Madison History Department External Opportunities Fund Award, 2021
  • Foreign Language & Area Studies Summer Fellowship, 2020 (Indonesian)
  • Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowship, 2020 (Indonesian)
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School Fellowship, 2019
  • Foreign Language & Area Studies Summer Fellowship, 2018 (Filipino)
  • Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowship, 2018 (Filipino)
  • Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institution Scholarship, 2018 (Filipino)

Professional Affiliations

  • American Historical Association (AHA)
  • Association for Asian Studies (AAS)
  • Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE)

Courses Taught as TA

  • History 244: Introduction to Southeast Asia
  • Geography 377: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS)