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MuscolinoMicah Muscolino

Professor, Paul G. Pickowicz Endowed Chair in Modern Chinese History

Department of History

Micah Muscolino received his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 2006. His primary area of expertise is modern Chinese environmental history. Prior to coming to UC San Diego, he held academic positions at Saint Mary’s College of California, Georgetown University and the University of Oxford.

In addition to illuminating the historical roots of China’s current environmental challenges, his research employs environmental approaches to offer new insights into social, economic, political, and military developments of interest to a wide range of China historians. He has written books on the environmental history of China’s marine fisheries and the ecological impact of World War II in China, as well as articles on maritime connections between Mainland China and Taiwan, international conflicts over hydrocarbon resources in the South China Sea, and numerous other topics.

He has been a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey with funding from a Mellon Fellowship for Assistant Professors and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and an invited Visiting Professor at Harvard University. His research has also been supported by fellowships and grants from the British Academy, the Chiang Chiang-kuo Foundation and the Fulbright Program.

His current book project focuses on the history of water and soil conservation in Northwest China’s Loess Plateau region from the 1940s to the present. Drawing on county-level archives and fieldwork conducted in villages in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, this study focuses on encounters between people and the land as mediated by the state, revealing how specific ecological practices have been formed through complex interactions among local knowledge and priorities, the political and economic imperatives of the Chinese state, gendered constructions of work, and the dynamics of the natural landscape.

At UC San Diego, Dr. Muscolino will teach undergraduate and graduate courses on modern Chinese history and global environmental history. He advises graduate students working on all topics in Chinese history during the late Qing, Republican and PRC eras.


What excites you most about coming to UC San Diego?

As a native Californian and a graduate of the University of California system, I’m thrilled to join UC San Diego’s faculty. UC San Diego has one of the top programs in modern Chinese history in the country, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to continue UC San Diego’s track record of excellence in that field. I’m also excited about working with colleagues in the Department of History to establish environmental history as an area of research and teaching strength at UC San Diego.

Why did you choose your field of study?

When I went to college in the mid-1990s, there was no doubt that I’d major in history. But I had no clue about the history of anywhere other than the United States. Taking classes on East Asian history with some outstanding instructors really broadened my horizons, and I decided to study the history of modern China. At that time, China hadn’t quite attained the economic and geopolitical clout that it possesses today. But China already seemed big and important, which was another reason I chose to focus on Chinese history. I haven’t regretted it for a moment.

What advice do you have for students who choose to major in arts and humanities?

Regardless of what major you choose, a wide range of career opportunities will await you when you graduate from UC San Diego with a degree in the arts and humanities. With that in mind, you can follow your passion and study topics that you find fascinating and meaningful, rather than the ones that you think are going to be the most marketable. If you utilize the skills you develop at UC San Diego to pursue answers to the questions that matter to you, questioning both the received wisdom and your own assumptions, then you’re going to be successful.

How do you view your role relative to the greater regional community?

As an environmental historian, I want to help educate students at UC San Diego as well as members of the wider San Diego-Tijuana community about the environmental crises that face China and the world. Given China’s demographic and economic weight, what happens to China’s environment has always been, and will continue to be, of critical importance to the Earth’s environment. Appreciating the historical roots of China’s current environmental realities can enrich our understanding of all sorts of issues at the heart of global efforts towards the goal of sustainable and equitable development. It matters to everyone.

Tell us something about yourself that is not normally mentioned in your bio.

I’m pretty good at drawing. When I was a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist.