Organized Panel Session
Histories of China and India have all too often be written from a terrestrial perspective, in which rivers, lakes, and wetlands form the borders of the human world, as obstacles to be overcome, channels to be bridged, or streams to be managed. This panel seeks to unsettle this world view, by unearthing – or perhaps dredging up – the amphibious histories of the two regions. The papers view rivers not as fixed channels but as pulsing and flowing systems, which interact with the terrestrial world not from neat riverbanks, but from muddy riparian zones, made up of colloids and admixtures rather than firm separations. Amphibious histories compel us to get our feet dirty - wading uninhibitedly into marshes, estuaries, wetlands, swamps and often into a veritable quagmire, in order to explore socio-environments dynamics, and to find patterns in the many pasts that have played out within the interminable jumbles of mud, sand, silt, ebbs, tides and stagnant waters.
This panel will discuss the histories of ‘pulse’ and ‘flow’ that have shaped events, politics, and wetland cultures Yangzi and Ganges river systems. To grasp pulse and flow as material ecological forces requires us to understand the non-linear, dynamic and temperamental characteristics of rivers. It also urges us also to discover how fluvial stochastic behaviour acted to define, constrain, or enable a range of cultural adaptations, livelihood strategies, and technical innovations, helping to forge political power within vast stretches of the Yangzi and the Ganges systems. Amphibious histories, in other words, help us to recover histories of alluvial, lacustrine, and deltaic zones from the vantage point of radical ecological change and hybrid environments.
The four papers in the panel provide theoretical and empirical investigations into amphibious histories in India and China. Sudipta Sen’s paper explores how the greater Ganges Delta transformed from a geographic and maritime margin to an important part of a vast agrarian empire between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, posing the significance of understanding historical processes from an amphibious perspective. Yan Gao’s paper provides a contrasting amphibious history of the pre-modern central Yangzi where wetland ecosystems and politics were intertwined. Chris Courtney’s paper examines how residents of the central Yangzi exploited wetland flora and fauna in the twentieth century, examining the destruction and reconstruction of Chinese wetland cultures. Rohan D’Souza’s paper analyzes how perennial irrigation and colonial engineering transformed the way that people interacted with South Asian river systems during the nineteenth century, undermining alternative forms of local knowledge