Zaanheh: A Natural History of Shanghai is an interdisciplinary project that explores the history of Shanghai’s urban ecology in order to reimagine the future city as it adapts to a changing environment.

Zaanheh is led by a team at NYU Shanghai who bring together multiple institutions, scholars, researchers and artists from across the world, working in a broad range of disciplines in both private and public sectors.

Zaanheh takes inspiration and guidance from Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York, a groundbreaking, decade-long research project led by Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which uncovered the rich ecological diversity of Manhattan in the year 1609, when Henry Hudson first arrived in New York and ushered in European reconstruction of the island. Mannahatta returns to this point of transformation through the use of historical documents as well scientific data, recreating the vegetation, soil species, animal life and human culture of a past environment and lost ecological history.  

Unlike Mannahatta, however, which focuses on a single point of time, Zaanheh takes a more layered temporal approach. Our project approaches the city as a palimpsest, peeling back time to recover older, and hidden, ecologies. What were the diverse ecosystems and variety of plants and animals that once thrived in this subtropical zone? What might we uncover of this delta, with its snaking waterways, rich soil and long history of agriculture and urban gardens?  What can we learn from the practices of translation as older bureaucratic records, infused with art and poetry, are transformed into the visual and textual languages of modern science? How might the ideas and practices of cultivation, so critical to the Jiangnan region, open new ways of thinking about nature of the future metropolis?

Zaanheh combines historical investigations, ecological analyses, ethnographic inquiry, artistic explorations with the practices and tools of emerging media (online experimentation, data visualization, VR/AR, etc,). The project will result in scholarly publications, policy papers, academic conferences, public exhibitions and more.


Dr. I-chun Fan

Historical GIS, Chinese Economic History

Academia Sinica
Research Fellow
Institute of History and Philology

Hui Fang

People, ecosystems, wildlife

New York University
PhD Candidate
Institute of Fine Arts

Kim Fisher

Spatial and data analysis and visualization, tools and web apps for conservationists and urban planners

Wildlife Conservation Society
Spatial Analyst and Developer

Hsiungming Liao

Maps, Historical GIS, Digital Methods, Environmental History

Academia Sinica
Associate Research Scientist
Center for GIS, RCHSS


1555 Century Ave
Pudong New District, Shanghai
CHINA . 200122