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Dr. Yan Gao

Dr. Yan Gao

Fellow in the project „Epochal Life Worlds: Man, Nature and Technology in Narratives of Crisis and Change“ (June 2023)

Short Biography

Yan Gao is a historian of late imperial and modern China. Growing up in Wuhan, China, she has been fascinated by the water issues of her native place and the world. She specializes in social and environmental history of central Yangzi region, water history, and Asian environmental humanities. Her first book Yangzi Waters, published by Brill, examines water management and environmental changes in late imperial central China. She continues to write about the Yangzi River, and expands her research interest to human-animal relations and climate humanities. Her current project explores the interactions of social and climate systems in the central Yangzi valley from the nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. She obtained her PhD from Carnegie Mellon University. She was a Carson fellow at the Rachel Carson Center and conducted research at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Duke University.


Yangzi Worlds: Crisis and the Making of an Age of Uncertainty

This project studies the 1870 Yangzi flood and its world-making effects from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Tentatively titled as “Yangzi Worlds,” I look into the climate events in the 1870s and how local communities responded to climatic anomalies and their aftermath. Through researching on extensive writings on the Yangzi River and its valley, including official anthologies, local archives and travel logs, this project reveals an age of exploration on the Yangzi and its valley from the 1870s onwards. It draws on the theoretical discussion of “worldmaking” and examines the linguistic representations of the environments of the Yangzi region in those writings. In so doing, it analyzes the different worlds of the Yangzi that were construed by various agencies, ranging from human groups, to water, sediments, plants and animals. This project provides a multi-faceted history of the Yangzi River and its valley, understood through intertwined makings of social, natural and climate systems.