A talk by: Brian Lander
Assistant Professor of History and Environmental Studies
Department of History
By encouraging us to rethink familiar historical processes through an ecological lens, the field of environmental history provides new insights into the past. Professor Lander’s forthcoming book The King’s Harvest uses such an ecological perspective to examine the formation of political organizations in early China. Since early political systems were funded by the grain taxes of common farmers, it follows that these systems literally ran on solar energy collected by plants, so we should think of them as organizations dedicated to mobilizing photosynthetic energy. Early states devoted much of that energy to assembling large groups of men to fight with other groups of armed men, but they also used it to expand farmland and increase the human population in the interests of increasing their tax income. This paper will use these insights to explore the history of the state and empire of Qin (c. 800-207 BCE). Qin established the centralized bureaucratic empire which became the standard model of political organization in China, bequeathing subsequent empires with administrative skills that helped them thoroughly transform East Asia’s environments.
Brian Lander studies the environmental history and archaeology of early China. He is an assistant professor at Brown University, where he teaches in history and environmental studies.