UC Merced Update

Ancient Chinese Government Lends Perspective to Modern Challenges


Ruth MosternFor better or worse, government hasn't changed all that much in two millennia.

China's government 2,000 years ago confronted the same kinds of problems as its modern counterparts — making decisions that are limited by incomplete information in times of factionalism.

This insight comes from UC Merced history Professor Ruth Mostern's book "Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern: The Spatial Organization of the Song State," published in March by the Harvard University Press. The book shows how UC Merced’s faculty addresses modern-day problems through novel research.

The book draws information from a comprehensive database envisioned by Mostern and designed by student Elijah Meeks, who is now working at Stanford as a digital humanities specialist. The database chronicles the changes made by the Song Dynasty to the towns, counties and prefectures during medieval times in China. Mostern studied the database to determine periods of major changes and of stability in the 300-year dynasty.

Mostern will continue her work about China this summer as she begins a project about the Yellow River. The American Council of Learned Societies recently awarded Mostern a Digital Innovation Fellowship meant to further her innovative approach to history. The fellowship, both competitive and prestigious, will pay for a year’s salary and project costs, allowing Mostern to focus on the project.