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Ruth Mostern – The Natural and Unnatural History of the Yellow River

December 3, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Speaker: Ruth Mostern, University of Pittsburgh

The geographer Jamie Linton has observed that under conditions of human entanglement, there is no such thing as a hydrological cycle, and that we should seek to understand the dynamics of hydrosocial cycles instead.  Under anthropogenic conditions, water still precipitates and evaporates. Rivers are still fluvial systems in which precipitation and suspended material disgorge from headwaters, flow through a drainage basin, traverse a floodplain, and exit to the ocean. However, in a hydrosocial river, human activity has transformed each of these processes. At the same time, human society is reshaped by the river’s agentive activity. Catastrophes of drought and flood are marquee events on a hydrosocial river, but slow changes – slow violence, to use Rob Nixon’s striking term – affect imperial budgets and soil chemistry alike. This talk is a summary of my book-in-progress, an effort to understand these dynamics on the entire Yellow River watershed at the scale of the Holocene era by combining environmental science, spatial and data analysis, and historical narrative.

Ruth Mostern is Associate Professor of History and Director of the World History Center at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern: The Spatial Organization of the Song State (960-1276 CE) (Harvard Asia Center, 2011) and the co-editor of Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers (Indiana University Press, 2016). Her current book, Following the Tracks of Yu: The Imperial and Ecological Worlds of the Yellow River is in contract at Yale University Press.  She is currently PI on two NEH grants: one to develop content and infrastructure for an ecosystem of digital historical gazetteers, and one to design and launch an interdisciplinary curriculum about water in Central Asia.


December 3, 2018
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

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