China and Inner Asia
Session Abstract: Accounts of the Yellow River often focus on its significance to Chinese civilization as a whole, both as a cradle of early agrarian life and as a source of hardship for the region’s inhabitants, owing to its frequent floods. These narratives, though, obscure how the Yellow River’s history has varied tremendously across time and space. Our panel works towards a more nuanced history of the river grounded in local experiences. In so doing, our presentations question the river’s reputation as “China’s sorrow,” showing that this image is a product of a particular time (the late nineteenth century) and does not accurately reflect the experiences of all communities even at that time. We further highlight how human actors have often been responsible for harm associated with the river, both in premodern and modern times. Rather than a monolithic natural feature, we show that the Yellow River was a product of patterns of human behavior unfolding within and between local communities. We explore these relationships between local histories and the translocal environmental, economic, political, and cultural processes in which they are embedded from a variety of angles: the cultural significance of the river, its effects on other waterways and interregional transportation, and how state-building priorities shaped hydraulic projects to the benefit or harm of local communities. In addition to casting new light on the history of the Yellow River, our panel will showcase diverse methodologies for building and weaving together local, national, and global narratives.
Paper Presenter: Ruth Mostern – University of Pittsburgh
Paper Presenter: Yuan Chen – Yale University
Paper Presenter: Daniel Knorr – University of Cambridge
Paper Presenter: Micah Muscolino – UC San Diego