An Interview with Prof. Leonard Andaya on the Study of Water and Rivers
“The study of rivers require far more attention than has generally been given by historians or social scientists”
Members of PangSau, a “blog rooted in bringing out the joys and pains of India’s North-East”, recently sat down with Dr. Andaya to talk about his personal history and interest in water as a research topic.
S: It is a very straightforward question, why should we study water? What does it tell us about our world?
A: Water is a very scarce resource, one that we really have to preserve. Yet this realization hasn’t hit many people. The reason is that most of us approach any study from the land, seeing water as contributing to the land in various ways or serving people as a transport surface or a source of food and exotic products. Little thought is given to water as a focus of investigation in its own right. Rivers, for example, are seen as valuable in connecting communities, for hydropower, and for fish. What environmental studies has done is to reveal the importance of rivers and other forms of water to the earth and to humans. By studying the complexity of these natural elements, the environmentalists have encouraged those in the humanities and social sciences to look more closely at water. They have shown, for example, how a drop in the level of a river could have a severe impact on organisms and biota that depend on the river’s equilibrium. The reason is that the “river” is more than just the surface flow of water but incorporates the subterranean layers of water, as well as all the organisms that are part of the river system.