Jonathan Schlesinger

Associate Professor, Department of History

Department of History

IU; IU Bloomington

Full Biography

I am a historian of late imperial China and environmental history. My first book, A World Trimmed with Fur, studies the nexus of empire, environment, and market that defined Qing China in 1750-1850, when unprecedented commercial expansion and a rush for natural resources transformed the ecology of China and its borderlands. That boom, no less than today’s, had profound institutional, ideological, and environmental causes and consequences. Indeed, the boom years witnessed a reinvention of nature itself. Early modern wilderness was not a state of nature; it reflected the nature of the state.

My research builds from experience in the PRC, Taiwan, and Mongolia. I work with Chinese, Manchu, and Mongolian language archives, love the study of material objects, and am drawn to the global dimensions of China’s environmental history.  In pursuit of such global connections, my current research examines the history of five castaways – including two Africans – that mutinied and escaped to the Korean coast in 1800, thus prompting a series of investigations by the Qing, Chosŏn, and Portuguese states.  The project explores the castaways' entanglements with these powers, details their ties to the ivory and rhinoceros horn trades, and reveals the problems of identity they posed for all governments and scholars who encountered them.   

Research Interests

  • China and Inner Asia
  • Environmental history
  • Early modern empires
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Commodities and consumption


  • Ph.D. at Harvard University, 2012

Courses Taught

  • China: The Later Empires
  • Frontier China: Migrants, Nomads, and Borderland Nobodies 
  • Environmental Problems in Chinese History
  • Opium and Beyond: China in the Nineteenth Century
  • Made in China: A History of China in the World, 1200-2000


  • A World Trimmed with Fur: Wild Things, Pristine Places, and the Natural Fringes of Qing Rule (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017). Winner, 2019 Association for Asian Studies Joseph Levenson Pre-1900 Book Prize.
  • “Towards an Environmental Microhistory: Lessons from the Muwa Gisun.” Late Imperial China 39.2 (2018): 1-15.
  • “Xinqingshi yu zhongguo huanjingshi qianyan” [New Qing History and the Frontline of Chinese Environmental History] Jiang-Han Luntan 5 (2014): 42-46.
  • “Rulers and Rascals: The Politics of Gold in Qing Mongolian History.” Central Asian Survey 29.3 (2010): 289-304. Co-authored with Mette High.