International Institute for Asian Studies
Expanding humanities
Submitted by Philippe Peycam on 22 October 2016 - 11:12am

The 2016-2017 academic year started well for IIAS, as we received a major grant from the New York-based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to continue our innovative work to develop new research and teaching paradigms that seek to move beyond traditional area studies, towards what can best be defined as globally connected humanities.

The four-year, through a collaborative platform of over twenty Asian, African, European and North American universities and their local social and cultural partners, will support work toward the co-creation of an alternative humanistic pedagogy curriculum. This follows the successful completion of a previous three-year project (Rethinking Asian Studies in a Global Context), also supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to rethink the scholarly practice of area (Asia) studies in today’s global context.

The new programme is entitled Humanities across Borders: Asia and Africa in the World. The initiative calls for expanding the scope of the humanities by mobilising the knowledge in ‘everyday life practices’ that have remained largely unrepresented in contemporary academia. It will connect and mobilise a global network of individuals and institutions capable of generating such knowledge in Asia and Africa in order to develop new pedagogies for teaching, research, and dissemination of this knowledge across disciplinary, national, and sectorial borders. The aim is to contribute to the realignment of the social role and mission of institutions of higher learning with regard to the humanistic principles and values that inspired their establishment in the first place (see also the article on pages 14-15 by Aarti Kawlra and Françoise Vergès).

This overall goal encompasses the following objectives: the establishment of a trans-regional consortium of engaged scholars, educators, and institutions committed to innovations in research and education; the development of experimental methodological interventions through the collection, production, and analysis of humanistic ‘meaning-making’ knowledge in four regions – Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia, and West Africa – along key ‘sites of knowledge’ and common themes of comparison; the encouragement of university-society participatory activities and, when possible, their institutionalisation in the form of trans-disciplinary centres for testing curricula and pedagogies in partner institutions; the joint finalisation of a curricular matrix capable of integrating other forms of humanistic learning out of different local contexts.

My message here would not be complete without saying a few words about ICAS 10. Work is currently underway to prepare for the convention that will take place in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from 20-23 July 2017, in partnership with Chiang Mai University (CMU). The tenth edition of the biennial ICAS event will be innovative in many ways. In close collaboration with CMU, IIAS is seeking to diversify the range of activities and experiences at the convention, with an effort toward closer connections between intellectual and cultural activities within the local society (ICAS 10 will take pace directly after the annual International Thai Studies Conference, to be held at the same venue). In addition to thematic panels, roundtables and keynotes, the convention will host art and craft exhibitions, film viewings, and academic-civil society exchanges.

Another major innovation concerns the ICAS Book Prize (IBP), now in its seventh edition. For the first time, the IBP will feature publications in languages other than English: Chinese, Korean, French and German. We believe this will contribute to the extension of ‘spaces of knowledge’ about Asia, and facilitate exchanges between them. The IBP is made possible thanks to the collaboration with a number of key partners including Leiden University’s Asia Library, the GIS-Réseau Asie, the Hong Kong Institute of Education, the Seoul National University Asia Centre (SNUAC), the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), and the Schweizerische Akademie der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften.

As these two major IIAS undertakings demonstrate, 2017 – hailed as the ‘Asia Year’ in Leiden – will see IIAS continue its pioneering work to expand knowledge on and with Asia, in the world.