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Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research(S): The Hydrosphere and Socioeconomics in Modern Asia - Exploring a New Regional History Using a Database and Spatial Analysis

The background and aims of the research

Under the condition of accelerated deepening of interdependence among countries and regional societies and economies, or “globalization,” in contemporary society, what is required is not an investigation into the sum of different countries’ histories but an enquiry into the origins and processes of the inter-dependent relationship among various parts of the world. In the study of Asian history carried out in Japan, on the other hand, it has been pointed out in the “theory of the Asian trading zone” that, from the 1980s, changes in Asian countries in the context of the tight intertwining of world economies since the 19th century should be comprehended as regional issues; this should occur in the sense that the regional trade and movement of people by the eighteenth century had expanded as had the inter-relationship of economies through industrialization. Since then, research has been carried out on the merchant networks and trade in the Asian zone and on coastal cities.

The methodological challenges lie in the positioning and integration of empirical studies of various places in relation to the spatial placement of the diverse natural environment and society/economy of the Asian region. The construction of a meta-narrative of the history of the world, which weaves in various regional perspectives and cases, remains a challenge in the study of modern Asian history.

In envisioning Asian history as an area with a degree of cohesion, two conditions regarding water can be identified: monsoon and seasonal rainfall exert a huge influence over a vast area, and many of the areas in the regions have a topography defined by water systems including seas, rivers, and lakes; in other words, they constitute a “hydrosphere.” Focusing on the relationship with the climate and natural environment as seen in a monsoon climate and the hydrosphere, the project sheds light on the ways in which society and economy worked in nineteenth and twentieth century Asia.

Research methods

In constructing a meta-narrative, the techniques of big data––a large database constructed by attaching mutually referential meta-data to various data sources from each region––which have been developed in the process of responding to global problems such as climate change, attract our attention.

Also, to compare and integrate information from various areas about individual problems, an effective method is to create a database (DB) from data with spatial ID made up with latitude and longitude (spatial data) using geographical information systems (GIS).

In this project, historians who research various regions in Asia collaborate with engineers to build a spatial information database in regard to three questions related to climate and hydrosphere: 1) the natural environment and phenomena, 2) production and life, and 3) mobility and distribution. By applying spatial analysis, the project illuminates the inter-relationships among the climate, hydrosphere, society, and economy in various regions of Asia.

Contributions of the research project

The project sheds light on the structure and dynamics of multi-dimensional Asian society and economy in which the locality, the state, and the region intersect in reference to the combination of analyses between different time periods, locations, and among the group of problems.

It builds a new research resource––the spatial information data base––and develops a research method––the application of spatial analysis.

In order to achieve these purposes, the project does not take the approach of collecting output from case studies but adopts a research regime in which researchers from various disciplines and regions share the database and analytical methods to collaborate closely. In so doing, this project hopes to present a new model of collaborative research between natural and social sciences.


This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Numbers 17H06116.

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