Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Losing Home: The Yi People and Environment in the Liangshan Region

by Zhen Wang

Liangshan (凉山) is a mountainous region of 60,423 square km2 that occupies much of the southern part of Sichuan province, on the border with Yunnan province. It has the largest population of ethnic Yi nationally, totaling nearly 50% of the 4.5 million inhabitants in 2010. In recognition of the large percentage of ethnic minorities, Liangshan is designated as an autonomous prefecture and directly controls 1 county-level city and 16 counties.

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© Fei Tian (田飞) 2016. Anning River

My research project “The Changing Landscape of Ethnic Minority Villages in Southwest China” began in November 2014, and since July 2016 it has been sponsored by the State Ethnic Affairs Commission of the People’s Republic of China. In November 2016, our research team visited 21 families in 7 villages across 4 townships and 1 county. The area covered was from Anning River Valley (安宁河), the largest river in the Liangshan area, to the mountainous Dafengding Nature Reserve (大封顶自然保护区), an important panda habitat. The reserve can only be accessed for a few months each summer before it is once again blocked by heavy snow. Continue reading


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Toward a Beautiful Rural Life

by Zhen Wang

Jenny Chio’s book A Landscape of Travel: The Work of Tourism in Rural Ethnic China attracted me because of its connection to my current research project at the Rachel Carson Center. One of the reasons for this is that we share the same research area—southwest China. My own research focuses on the changing landscape of ethnic minority villages in Sichuan Province; Chio’s book tells a story of two ethnic minority villages located in Guangxi and Guizhou provinces respectively. Together, these are three important places in southwest China. Another main reason is that we are both interested in how minority peoples’ living environments and everyday lives have changed and been shaped by the influences which have come from China’s rapid urbanization and economic development during the last nearly four decades. Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Yan Gao

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

“Watermarks on My Path”

By Yan Gao

When I started writing this article, my home city, Wuhan—situated at the confluence of the Yangzi and Han Rivers—was undergoing one of the largest floods in the city’s modern history. According to data from the Wuhan meteorological authorities, from 1 June to 6 July, cumulative rainfall in Wuhan’s main districts totaled 1087.2 mm, and the weekly precipitation in Wuhan from 30 June to 6 July reached a record-breaking 574.1 mm. The excessive water paralyzed the entire city: subway stations were submerged, roads were flooded, communities experienced severe drainage problems, there were citywide electricity cuts, and schools and workplaces closed. I was thousands of miles away, anxiously reading news reports. Continue reading


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CfP: “Transformations of the Earth”—International Graduate Student Workshop in Environmental History

Location: Renmin University, China

Conveners: Christof Mauch (Rachel Carson Center), Mingfang Xia (Renmin University), Donald Worster (Renmin University)

This conference is open to advanced graduate students and early postdocs, regardless of department, discipline, or country. The purpose of the conference is to provide promising, but inexperienced scholars an opportunity to present their work in progress (e.g., a chapter from a dissertation) before an international group of peers and a panel of senior mentors in the field.

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Beijing. Photograph: Flickr, Nikolaj Potanin.

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Student Project: The Birth of Geoengineering

by Martin Meiske

Congratulations to RCC doctoral program member Martin Meiske, who received the prize for the best poster at the 2015 ESEH conference in Versailles. In his poster he presented his dissertation project on “The Birth of Geoengineering: Large-scale Engineering Projects in the Early Stage of the Anthropocene (1850–1950)”—here, he tells us more about his inspiration and path to the RCC.

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Photo of the Week: Helmuth Trischler

Honge Hani Rice Terraces, Yunnan, China. Photograph: Helmuth Trischler.

Yunnan rice terraces. Photograph: Helmuth Trischler.

Honghe Hani Rice Terraces—a famous UNESCO world cultural heritage site in southwest China’s Yunnan province. Hani people have cultivated the land into terraced rice paddies for at least 1,300 years, creating a unique manufactured landscape. Continue reading