IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No.17 | Institutes
Noordwijkerhout, the Netherlands When Research Traditions Meet
The International Convention of Asia ScholarsThe International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) which took place from 25 to 28 June 1998 in Noordwijkerhout, the Netherlands, was an experiment in terms of the parties involved, the nature of the participants, the contents, the manner of organization, and the size (at least in the European context). On this page I will try and give my impressions of this Meeting and add some recommendations. As I was the ICAS supervisor, this short report might be a little biased but I hope it will give food for thought.
By Paul van der Velde
How did the ICAS come about? For some of years the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) and the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) had been thinking of ways of internationalizing Asian Studies. Internationalization meetings took place during the annual meetings of the AAS. This transatlantic dialogue gradually matured and was thought of as an arena in which American and European Asianists could get together. It acquired a name: the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS). Apart from the AAS and the IIAS, the European Science Foundation Asia Committee and the six major European Asian Studies associations participated. This was the first time that these associations had formally co-operated in an Academic Programme Committee, which in itself should be considered a promising sign. Quite apart from this European and transatlantic collaboration the organizing committee attached great value to setting up a cultural programme to encourage the cultural rapprochement between East and West, which it sees as one of the most important challenges facing Asianists. It joined forces with Film South Asia, the School for New Dance Development Amsterdam, the Nederlands Filmmuseum, the Rotterdam Conservatory, some thirty renowned publishers in the field of Asian Studies, the Gate Foundation Amsterdam, and Canvas World Art, and organized the `The Eurasian Century' forum of journalists.
Scope of ICAS
There was never any doubt that Asianists from all over the world should have the chance to participate and once the convention was announced, enthusiastic replies came from every quarter of the world. Thus the convention grew to a platform on which Asian, American, and European Asianists could study problems of interest to all. Nothing can demonstrate this more clearly than the geographic origin of the participants and participating institutions. More than three hundred and fifty universities, institutes, and organizations were represented at the ICAS. There were nearly a thousand participants from some forty countries and there was a remarkably equal distribution continent-wise. Thirty-five per cent of the home institutions is located in America, an equal percentage in Europe, and thirty per cent in Asia. It is no exaggeration to say that the main goal of the ICAS and its Programme Committee was to transcend the boundaries between disciplines, between nations studied, and between the geographic origins of the presenters in its more than a hundred and thirty panels.
Let me quote one the many letters we received from participants. Geoffrey Wade, also on behalf of his colleagues of the Centre of Asian Studies (Hong Kong) wrote: 'The greatest value of the ICAS was that it did allow a greater mixing of Asian, North American and European scholars than we have experienced at any previous such gathering. This was of course one of the aims of the Convention and we hope that its unqualified success will be sufficient incentive to encourage you to attempt a `repeat performance' in future. We were all greatly impressed with the Convention - its venue, its scope, the excellence of the organization, the diversity of activities and the range of scholars who attended. The only drawback was that it was impossible for one to attend all of the sessions, but that indicates a surfeit rather than a deficiency. Particular thanks are due to your administrative staff who handled each and every query with concern and good grace.'
The remark passed by Wade on the unqualified success should be put in perspective. From the questionnaires filled in by a fair number of participants it transpired that ICAS had its teething problems. Transportation was singled out as the biggest one: many people had a tough time getting to the Convention site. This was due to insufficient information on the schedules and the fact that these schedules were not always followed. Whereas this was viewed as the main on-site problem, difficulties in communication plagued the entire process leading up to the Convention, which were mainly due to an overreliance on the Internet without adequate technical control. It should be added that the size of this first ICAS also took the organizers by surprise and we waited too long to increase the staff. There is one other severe shortcoming which should be mentioned here. The organizers or chairs of the panels were asked to send in summaries of their panels which were to be put on the ICAS website. So far ten-odd summaries out the total of one hundred and thirty panels have been received. This kind of sloppiness, in view of all the effort which has been put into ICAS, is hard to understand. Therefore I would like to personally ask all those who have not yet sent in their summaries to kindly to do so. I have a good reason for this, namely that an overwhelming majority of the respondents opted for what Wade called a `repeat performance'.
In this context a meeting took place on 27 June attended by representatives of European Asian Studies associations, the AAS, and the IIAS during which it became clear that a second ICAS was deemed desirable. There were discussions on when it should be held (every three to four years), where it should be held and who should organize it. No conclusive decisions were taken. The participants of the meeting recommended setting up an ICAS Steering Committee. This committee is still in the process of formation but plans are to have the first meeting during the Annual Meeting of the AAS in Boston, 11-14 March 1999. Information will be disseminated both through the IIAS Newsletter and the AAS Newsletter. All ICAS 1 participants will be informed about the outcome of the meeting of the Steering Committee.
On behalf of Helga Lasschuijt (the ICAS Project Manager), I would like to thank the numerous sponsors, all ICAS staff members, the organizers of the cultural events, the booth holders, the Leeuwenhorst Congres Centrum, and all the participants who turned ICAS into an unforgettable experience of which Helga and I think that it will ultimately seriously change everybody's orientation.
You will find the edited versions of the ICAS keynote addresses by Goenawan Mohamad and Anthony Reid on pages 4 and 5.
IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No.17 | Institutes