In this research project, the researchers of history, hydrology, and meteorology collaborate to present a new narrative of Asian history focusing on the relation between water and people. The two pillars of the project are to envisage a history of Asia as a holistic region (Objectives) and to construct and analyze databases (DBs) incorporating knowledge from both natural science and engineering, as well as humanities and social sciences (Methods and Disciplines). These pillars are based on the following two water-related conditions that govern the regional society and economy: first, monsoon and seasonal rainfall have a large impact over a wide area; second, many areas in the region constitute a “hydrosphere,” a topography shaped by water systems consisting of seas, rivers, lakes, and marshes.
In exploring new regional history where the natural environment intersects with the societies and economies, it is essential that researchers in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering work together to mobilize the knowledge and techniques developed and accumulated in each field. In this project, a historical DB unit consisting of historians of China, India, and Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Indonesia, and Singapore) and a spatial analysis unit consisting of researchers from climatology, meteorology, and spatial and hydrological analyses (hereinafter referred to as the “Spatial Unit”) have collaborated to address three inter-linked tasks: 1) reproducing past weather and hydrosphere, 2) clarifying the linkage between natural environment and socioeconomics, and 3) comparing and examining each point in time and space.
To consider the historical development of the relationship between the natural environment and society and economy, it is necessary to clarify not only the human society but also the dynamic change of nature. By doing so, it is also possible to avoid environmentally deterministic inferences. However, regarding past natural environments and phenomena, there are limitations of historical data, and conventional studies have not necessarily identified quantitative and spatial arrangements. In response to this issue, the DB unit has taken up not only meteorological observation records by the meteorological bureaus established in various parts of Asia since the 19th century but also the Maritime Customs Report (China) and the Statistical Yearbook (Thailand), which have not been used as information sources for climate and hydrology, as new important sources of data. The DB unit has extracted daily and monthly data on ambient temperature, rainfall, river water level, water volume, and other measures, and constructed a spatial information DB with spatial information consisting of latitude and longitude. Based on DB construction, a new analytical method to reproduce the natural environment and phenomena is being developed in the spatial unit, including changes and spatial distribution in time-series, by applying climate simulation and hydrological and inundation analysis. Combining these new data sources and methodologies, we reproduce and analyze historical monsoon seasonal and annual variability and hydrospheric patterns that had not been evident in the past.
How can we extract and elucidate the links between the natural environment and the socioeconomics? This project incorporates the techniques of big data (large-capacity databases constructed with cross-referenced metadata attached to various sources of information in each region), which have been developed during the process of dealing with global issues such as climate change. In addition, to compare and integrate information on individual issues related to the natural environment and socioeconomics, a geographic information system (GIS) is used to convert related information into DB as data (spatial data) with IDs for positions consisting of latitude and longitude. Information on the three problem groups, 1) the natural environment/phenomena, 2) production/life, and 3) movement/distribution. has been constructed as a spatial DB. It is possible to link natural environment and socioeconomic activities through spatial ID and analyze them.
Based upon empirical studies on hydrosphere and socioeconomics at each point in time and space, comparisons will be made between different points and time horizons. For example, different from the conventional periodization focusing on political breakthroughs in each country, such as the end of colonial governance and independence or the revolution and the formation of the Communist Party regime, long-term socio-economic changes are considered; and in turn the governance of each political body is re-examined on the basis of these findings. Interregional commonalities and diversity in issues such as agriculture and rural areas and urban-rural relations are examined discussed. The combination of time-series, point-to-point, and problem-group analyses will reveal the structure and dynamics of modern Asian societies in terms of their responses to climate and hydrosphere.