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The historical study of rivers basins: new progress in the research on regional historical geography

Author  :       Source  :    Chinese Social sciences Today     2013-12-04

The National Planning Office of Philosophy and the Social Science has released the second list of later stage funding projects for 2013, including the "theories and the practices of the historical study of rivers basins" project. In 1950 Hou Renzhi, an Academic of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Professor of the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences of Peking University, first illustrated the theoretical nature and mission of historical geography, thus promoting the development of regional historical geography.

Regional historical geography, regarding a specific region as its research object, reveals the development and the evolution of the nature, culture and environmental conditions in that region. Since this concept only came about in the 1960s, how to realize comprehensive research within a certain region is an issue yet to be solved. The project in question attempts to make a breakthrough in realizing this target.

Conducting comprehensive research within regions

Discussing the origins of the historical study of river basins, Wang Shangyi, Chief Expert of the project and Secretary of the Party Committee of Taiyuan Normal College, claimed that studies of rivers and rivers basins as a whole have existed since ancient times. Hou emphasized the significance of research on rivers basins in his book, entitled Four Commentaries on Historical Geography, and also explained his idea of regarding regional chains as the research object.

Professor Deng Hui, from the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences of Peking University, claims that research on rivers basins pays particular attention to the historical activities of human beings; the historical study of rivers basins can therefore break through the traditional limitations of historical geography and conduct regional research from multidisciplinary perspectives including archaeology, ecology, anthropology and environmental science. However, Deng also expressed his concerns about this new research method: "the orientation towards river basins may be an impetus for the development of historical archaeology, but it may also weaken its disciplinary nature".

Enriching China’s achievements in the adaptation of historical geography to the local setting

Professor Deng says that the historical study of river basins is conducted in terms of China’s specific geographical environment. This enriches the achievements in the adaptation of historical geography to China’s local conditions.

Wang Shangyi has led the project’s research group to conduct several successive pieces of research on topics including the changes of the Wenyu River throughout history, and the relationship between the flooding of the Yellow River in the period of the two Han Dynasties and the utilization of the land near its middle reaches. By studying the natural disasters and the relationship between people and the land, the research group revealed the influence of the lifestyles and the modes of production of the local people on river basins, as well as proposing a theory of utilizing natural resources through overall planning. "The ultimate purpose of the historical study of rivers basins is to provide a basis for decision-making so as to promote the sustainable development in national and regional economies and societies", Wang explained.

The Operability of the theoretical framework still needs to be examined in practice

Some scholars also claim that the theoretical framework of the historical study of river basins has not yet been built up, and its operability still needs to be examined in practice.

The historical study of river basins aims to completely explore the evolution of certain river basins throughout the whole history of humanity. Professor Zhu Shiguang, from the Center for Historical Environment and Socio-Economic Development in Norwest China of Shaanxi Normal University, stresses that in order to realize that aim, it is necessary to conduct long, middle and even short-term research so as to achieve an in-depth understanding.

Man Zhimin, Professor of the Center for Historical Geographical Studies of Fudan University, claims that the historical study of rivers basins should focus on literature, while flexibly utilizing other research methods including some modern technological means.



Translated by Chen Meina

Revised by Gabriele Corsetti




Editor: Chen Meina

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