David received a BA with honors in American history from the University of North Carolina in 1992, where he helped develop a student environmental action coalition and worked in rural development. He left his homeland (quê hương) to become a volunteer English teacher in Vietnam and explore the other side of the world. David returned to the United States to pursue a PhD in environmental and Southeast Asian history at the University of Washington in Seattle (1996 to 2004). His dissertation examined social and historical dimensions of water politics in the delta through periods of imperial, colonial, and wartime government. Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta (University of Washington, 2011) received the George Perkins Marsh Award in 2012 and led him to new collaborations with social scientists and policymakers as well as historians. Since 2012, he has shifted his focus to the war-torn landscapes of central Vietnam near the former imperial capital, Hue. He is nearing completion of a manuscript titled Footprints: History and the Militarized Landscape in Central Vietnam, which draws on historical geographic information systems (hGIS), extensive research in aerial photography and map collections, and years of site visits to villages and former military sites.
- “History and the Militarized Landscape: Long Historical and Broad Social Views.” In Nature and History, edited by Mahesh Rangarajan and Gunnel Cederlöf. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
- “Promiscuous Transmission and Encapsulated Knowledge: A Material-Semiotic Approach to Modern Rice in the Mekong Delta.” In Rice: Global Networks and New Histories, edited by Francesca Bray, Peter A. Coclanis, Edda L. Fields-Black, and Dagmar Schäfer, 118–37. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
- “New Spaces for Stories: Technical and Conceptual Challenges to Using Spatial Imagery in Environmental History.” Environmental History (2014). http://environmentalhistory.net/field-notes/2014-biggs/.
- “Small Machines in the Garden: Everyday Technology and Revolution in the Mekong Delta.” Modern Asian Studies 46, no. 1 (2012): 47–70.
- “Aerial Photography and Colonial Discourse on the Agricultural Crisis in Late-Colonial Indochina, 1930–1945.” In Cultivating the Colony: Colonial States and their Environmental Legacies, edited by Christina Folke Ax, Niels Brimnes, Niklas Thode Jensen, and Karen Oslund, 109–32. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2011.
- Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta. Seattle, WA: University of Washington, 2011.