Institute at Brown for Environment and Society

IBES Awards Series: Assistant Professor Brian Lander

This spring, four members of IBES faculty received awards for their outstanding contributions to Brown and the broader community. This is Part III of a series highlighting the exceptional work of each awardee.

Brian Lander, Assistant Professor of History and Environment and Society, received the University’s Early Career Research Achievement Award in Humanities and Social Sciences for his exploration of China’s environmental history — a topic he has researched for the past eight years.

"I'm interested in how people learn to build their own ecosystems and replace all the wild plants and animals with agricultural landscapes," Lander said, adding that his areas of research include investigating native species and the development of water systems.

He was recognized in part for his book, The King's Harvest: A Political Ecology of China from the First Farmers to the First Empire, in which he argues that Chinese empires played a major role in transforming their surroundings, setting a historical precedent for the country’s "humanized" environment.

The annual award carries a $5,000 prize in research funds, which Lander is using to conduct field work in Northern China this summer. He is currently working on writing an environmental history of the Yangzi River valley's floodplains.

"I'm the opposite of a very systematic researcher," he remarked. "Everywhere I go, I learn about what's going on and get a better sense of the environment and how people have transformed it."

Lander was inspired to study China when he realized that the country has 3,000 years of largely unexplored written records, making it "one of the best places in the world to do environmental history."

He added that he was pleasantly surprised to receive an award for his efforts.

"I spent a lot of time doing this work," he said, "so it's always nice to get the feeling that someone's actually reading what you're doing and appreciating it."