Liveblogging, slowblogging, Mammoth Blogging?

John McKay, at Archy, is publishing excerpts from his work on the natural history and historiography of wooly mammoths. The latest installment is about China, particularly the Kangxi Emperor’s (r. 1661-1722) collection of mammoth-related materials and, surprisingly, personal contributions to the field. It seems that under Kangxi’s tutelage, the Chinese realized that the mammoth was most likely related to the elephant, after centuries of referring to it as a giant but uncategorized rodent. (Also, he’s looking for some help with consistent Romanizations.)

Just for fun, it inspired me to pull my copy of Elvin’s Retreat of the Elephants off my “wanna read” shelf and go through the introduction and first few chapters, including “Humans v. Elephants: The Three Thousand Years War.” The charts and diagrams in the introduction are nearly worth the price of admission. I’m not sure if I’m going to have time to get through much more of it this semester, but the overlap with my Early China class (especially using Hansen as the text, who does take environmental issues seriously) is significant, and I’m going to try to make the time.

I’ve been known to assign absurdly long books before; has anyone used Elvin in class?


  1. John’s excerpt was interesting reading and I’ve sent him the standardized Pinyin for the various transcriptions he had. I’m preparing some museum docents for a new exhibition on Kangxi so anyone else with interesting out-of-the-usual information on Kangxi, please post!

  2. Is RoTE commonly considered abstruse, or is it my lack of literacy? The examples and points in RoTE are very clear, but the overall structure is forbidding. Professor Elvin flitters from concept to concept, leaving the general reader to imply the relationship and to guess at the structure of the chapter. It reminds me a bit of historical Chinese mathematical texts, where only the problem and the solution are given, so that the owner of the text must hire a teacher to explain the method.

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