Distinguished Speaker Series

"Mapping the Manual of Birds: A New Approach to Understanding Chinese Natural History Painting" by Dr. Daniel Greenburg, Columbia University

Time: Feb. 25, 5:30pm

Location: Oxford Road Presentation Room

Free and open to the public


This lecture will introduce Greenberg’s attempts to incorporate GPS analysis into an art historical analysis of early modern Chinese natural history painting. The Manual of Birds (鳥譜, niaopu) is an ambitious encyclopedia of bird species produced in eighteenth-century China for the Qing court. Built upon a rich tradition of Chinese bestiaries but also in dialogue with early modern European natural histories, this book offers a glimpse into a Chinese court seeking to understand and envision the natural world, even as it sought to place these birds within the epistemic and geographical dominion of Qing empire.

 In this lecture, Greenberg will describe the production of the Manual within the Qing court, showing how it relates to artistic and textual models in Chinese and European sources. He will then examine the role of animals, science, and natural history in the construction of European and Chinese empire. And finally, Greenberg will show how he is utilizing GIS mapping to place each of the 360 bird species depicted in this work into their present-day geographical ranges. Combining historical, art historical, and data analysis, Greenberg will argue that this project offers new analytical purchase on a wide range of Qing natural history paintings previously dismissed as purely decorative, showing how these images of animals and plants were used to assert dominion over the jungles, steppes, and mountains of an expanding Qing empire.

About the speaker

Daniel Greenberg trained as a field biologist at Rutgers University, and he has worked as an ornithologist for the Institute for Bird Populations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the World Wide Fund for Nature at their Golden Monkey Preserve in Western China. After two years of service as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Sichuan Province, he studied at Nanjing University and the Graduate Institute of Art History at National Taiwan University before completing his PhD in Chinese Art History at Yale University. Greenberg has taught at Smith College and was an Andrew W. Mellon Teaching Fellow at Columbia University. He is currently a Visiting Scholar in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University.