Eric Sanderson’s Mannahatta Project has been field-defining for urban ecological history. His integrative approach combines historical investigations, ecological analyses, interpretive social science, GIS-based map-making, and Hollywood 3-D modeling to create a truly comprehensive account of Manhattan prior to European interventions in the early seventeenth century.

Changes in Shanghai’s urban landscape in the last three decades or so have been widely documented in scholarly and popular outlets alike, but this city’s geography, ecology, and biodiversity of the past remain largely unexplored. The city’s natural history museum, for instance, pales in comparison with the constantly changing museum of urban planning. Accounts of Shanghai’s past often gloss over hundreds of years of history with the romanticized image of “a small fishing village,” without an appreciation for the rich ecological conditions of the past. This project marks an initial attempt to fill that lacuna.

At the core of NYU Shanghai’s Zaanheh Project is a robust body of scientific knowledge, spanning from the sedimentary history of the lower Yangtze delta to the social evolution of human settlements in the region. This core body of scientific knowledge will constitute the basis for a wide range of intellectual undertakings (i.e. spin-off research projects), including but not limited to: environmental history, sociology of colonial port cities, VR/AR of early ecological environments, ecological data visualization, artistic renderings of ecological science, among others. These spin-off projects will further enrich the Zaanheh Project, thereby building a dynamically growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship on the past, present, and future of Shanghai’s urban ecology.



  • Ann Chen, Interactive Media Arts, NYU Shanghai
  • Hui Fang
  • Kim Fisher, Wildlife Conservation Society
  • Anna Greenspan, Interactive Media Arts, NYU Shanghai
  • Adrian Hodge
  • Heather Lee
  • Yifei Li, Environmental Studies, NYU Shanghai
  • Fan Luo
  • Rune Madsen, Interactive Media Arts, NYU Shanghai
  • Maria E. Montoya, Global Network Associate Professor History, NYU, and Dean, Arts & Sciences, NYU Shanghai
  • Eric Sanderson, Landscape Ecologist at Wildlife Conservation Society and Director of the Mannahatta Project
  • Lena Scheen, Global China Studies, NYU Shanghai
  • Mark Swazloski
  • Francesca Tarocco, Chinese Religious Studies, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, and Buddhist Cultures, NYU Shanghai
  • Xiaojing Zu



Maria E. Montoya
1555 Century Ave,
Pudong Xinqu, Shanghai Shi,
China, 200122

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