An Information System for Large Scale Spatial History: The Three Thousand Year Story of Sediment, Settlement and State on China's Yellow River

Ruth Mostern, Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, University of California, Merced

This informal talk discusses my ongoing work to identify, digitize and assemble information concerning the "big history" of China's Yellow River.  The Yellow River is the most sediment laden river in the world, and over ninety percent of the silt comes from regions that traverse the friable and erosion-prone loess plateau, the grasslands and fragile soils  that constituted imperial China’s sedentary-pastoralist frontier.  Both Chinese and steppe regimes fortified the frontier, supported settlers, and mounted battles there.  When tensions were high and farms and garrisons proliferated, the quantity of silt entering the river increased, with disastrous consequences in the core imperial heartland of the lower river floodplain.  An abrupt increase in sediment load –a full order of magnitude of increase – occurred about one thousand years ago:  just at a moment of rising conflict between the Chinese and their steppe neighbors.  For the past year, I have been gathering spatial, temporal and ecological data concerning the entire course of the river and the correlation between the intensification of settlement on the loess plateau and the environmental degradation of the north China plain.  This talk introduces that data and outlines future steps for the development of a digital atlas and a spatial environmental history research agenda.

Thursday, August 16, 2012 | 12:00 pm — 1:30 pm
Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis , Grand Central, 4th Floor, Wallenberg Hall, Building 160,

Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis