Research

Ruth Mostern's research incorporates two distinct but interconnected  areas of activity.  She studies the historical geography of imperial China, and she also investigates methods and infrastructure for digital spatial history and the digital humanities.  Please see her CV for a full list of publications, grants, and research activities.

Mostern's current scholarship on Chinese history primarily concerns the environmental history of the Yellow River as a human and natural system.  She is researching the entire river basin (which stretches from the Tibetan plateau to the Pacific Ocean) during a timeframe of approximately 5,000 years.  Her goal is to ascertain when, and to what degree, human activity in the upper and middle reaches of the river increased the risk of flooding on the densely populated lower course of the river.  She is creating a digital atlas that includes a GIS (a digital mapping system) and a database of the dates and locations of disasters and civil engineering works in the river basin.  The data-oriented approach supports historical reasoning at a vast temporal and spatial scale, allows for empirical analysis, and facilitates publication of a work with interactive features and data access.  Her first book, Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern: The Spatial Organization of the Song State (960-1276 CE) was published by Harvard University Press in 2011.  She completed a digital publication, The Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty, at the same time.  

Her scholarly activity in the digital humanities includes three integrated areas of activity.  One line of research involves pedagogy and standards development for digital atlases, including the article “Traveling the Silk Road on a Digital Globe,” and the publication of Story Maps, a digital map textbook supplement for W. W. Norton.  A second line of research is the Data Hoover Project to study and pilot infrastructure and community development for world historical data repositories. The work is funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted in collaboration with the Collaborative for Historical Information and Analysis (CHIA).   A final line of digital humanities scholarship is about digital gazetteers, which are databases of named places.  Little has been written about gazetteers from a historical and humanistic perspective. Along with two co-editors, she has completed a book of essays on the topic, Placing Names: Enriching and Enhancing Gazetteers, in contract and under review at Indiana University Press. The article “On Historical Gazetteers” previews a number of themes of the book.  She is currently funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities to extend that research direction.