On Friday, May 2, Nicola Di Cosmo, Luce Foundation Professor in East Asian Studies in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, will give a public lecture, “Climate, Conflict, and Historical Method,” at 5:30 p.m. in Wolfensohn Hall. Di Cosmo will discuss how historians can contribute to investigating the relationships between climate change, ecology and human activity. In addition to searching for anthropogenic climate change, scientific research is making available volumes of data on the possible correlations between environmental change and social transformations over long periods of time. Yet, how strong and how precise a correlation one might be able to establish between phenomena like droughts, floods and volcanic eruptions and the emergence of conflict, the migration of peoples or the collapse of civilizations, remain open questions.
While research in environmental history addresses some of these issues, historians have been hesitant about attributing the causes of human crises and catastrophes to natural events, and wary of introducing scientific data in historical interpretations. Di Cosmo’s recent research addresses issues related to the impact of climate events on East Asian history, with a special focus on the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. One of the critical aspects of this study is the gulf between how science and history construct causal relations in the explanation of historical events presumably related to climate and environmental change. In this lecture, taking a cue from recent publications, Di Cosmo will examine methodological issues involved in the historical examination of the relationship between climate change and warfare, conflicts, the rise of empires and the fall of dynasties.
A leading scholar in East Asian studies, Di Cosmo’s research focuses on the relations between China and Inner Asia from prehistory to the early modern period. He is interested in the history and archaeology of China’s northern frontiers, cultural contacts between China and Central Asia, and the military, political and social history of Chinese dynasties of Inner Asian origin. His most recent works include studies on Chinese military culture, Chinese historiography, the early history of the Manchu state and relations between Europe and the Mongol Empire. Currently, Di Cosmo is working on questions of climate change at the time of the Mongol empire, the political thought of early Manchus, and commercial relations in northeast Asia on the even of the Qing conquest.
Di Cosmo is the author of many books including Diary of a Manchu Soldier in Seventeenth-Century China (RoutledgeCurzon, 2006), A Documentary History of Manchu-Mongol Relations (E.J. Brill, 2003) and Ancient China and Its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History (Cambridge University Press, 2002). He has also edited several publications including The Cambridge History of Inner Asia: The Chinggisid Age (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and Military Culture in Imperial China (Harvard University Press, 2009).
Di Cosmo received his Ph.D. in 1991 from Indiana University, where he was also a visiting Lecturer and Rockefeller Fellow from 1992–93. Prior to joining the Institute, Di Cosmo has held teaching and research positions at the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, and the University of Canterbury (New Zealand). After having visited the Institute for Advanced Study as a Member from 1998–99, he joined the Faculty of the School of Historical Studies in 2003.