The Yellow River A Natural and Unnatural History Ruth Mostern

Yale Agrarian Studies Series
Publication date:
23 Nov 2021
Yale University Press
376 pages: 229 x 178mm
43 color + 120 b-w illus.
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A three-thousand-year history of the Yellow River and the legacy of interactions between humans and the natural landscape

From Neolithic times to the present day, the Yellow River and its watershed have both shaped and been shaped by human society. Using the Yellow River to illustrate the long-term effects of environmentally significant human activity, Ruth Mostern unravels the long history of the human relationship with water and soil and the consequences, at times disastrous, of ecological transformations that resulted from human decisions.

As Mostern follows the Yellow River through three millennia of history, she underlines how governments consistently ignored the dynamic interrelationships of the river’s varied ecosystems—grasslands, riparian forests, wetlands, and deserts—and the ecological and cultural impacts of their policies. With an interdisciplinary approach informed by archival research and GIS (geographical information system) records, this groundbreaking volume provides unique insight into patterns, transformations, and devastating ruptures throughout ecological history and offers profound conclusions about the way we continue to affect the natural systems upon which we depend.

Ruth Mostern is associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is also director of the World History Center.

“No other scholar has produced such a systematic, comprehensive account of the long-term changes in the river’s function and structure. I consider it to be the definitive work on the topic of the Yellow River to date.”—Peter C. Perdue, author of China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

“Ruth Mostern masterfully explores the ‘natural and unnatural’ impacts of the Yellow River. Her approach, emphasizing continuity and change over the longue durée, reveals a complex river that connects, dissects, transports, and displaces.”—David A. Pietz, author of The Yellow River: The Problem of Water in Modern China

“This unique book is testimony to the great value of spatial analysis and digital approaches. Read it for methodological innovation and let that change how you study history, humanities, and beyond!”—Ling Zhang, author of The River, the Plain, and the State: An Environmental Drama in Northern Song China, 1048–1128

“In her three-thousand-year history of the Yellow River, Ruth Mostern provides a genuinely new take, full of surprising insights, that makes compelling reading. A pioneering example of quantitatively informed environmental history.”—Valerie Hansen, author of The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World—and Globalization Began

“An outstanding merger of science and history, giving us a deeper understanding of the long, often tragic history of efforts to manage the Yellow River and the land it flows through.”—Kenneth Pomeranz, author of The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy