Soil and Society on the Loess Plateau, c. 1850s-1950s: A History from the Bottom Up

Soil and Society on the Loess Plateau, c. 1850s-1950s: A History from the Bottom Up

Micah Muscolino - Associate Professor of Modern Chinese History, Oxford University

Tuesday, April 5, 2016 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Room 203, Henry R. Luce Hall See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511

For most of history, little has mattered more for human communities than their relations with the soil that provided most of their food and nutrients. For the past few centuries (the “Anthropocene”), on the other hand, nothing has mattered more for soils in China and the wider world than human action, which has accelerated erosion and rerouted nutrient flows, making humans into agents of geomorphological change. What understandings of environmental change prevailed in China’s erosion-prone loess plateau region during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, when human alteration of the earth and its soils reached new levels? How did multiple ecological perceptions and land-use patterns coexist and compete with one another? How did state-initiated soil conservation measures during the mid-twentieth-century fit into these changing social and ecological contexts? This presentation will engage with these questions in a preliminary manner through an analysis of reports generated by water and soil conservation survey teams (shuitu baochi chakan dui) deputed by the PRC government in 1953 to investigate socio-economic conditions, local history, and land-management practices in the major river basins of Shaanxi, Gansu, and other parts of the loess plateau.

Micah Muscolino is Jessica Rawson Fellow in Modern Asian History at Merton College and Associate Professor of Chinese History, the University of Oxford. He is the author of The Ecology of War in China: Henan Province, the Yellow River, and Beyond, 1938-1950 (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and Fishing Wars and Environmental Change in Late Imperial and Modern China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2009), as well as numerous articles and book chapters.