Asia Center Director's Welcome Letter, Fall 2023
Welcome to the Harvard University Asia Center and the new 2023-2024 academic year! The Asia Center looks forward to a vibrant year of programming and events related to all facets of East, South, and Southeast Asia from past to present. We hope you have had a restorative and productive summer. This summer, which saw the world opening again and travel to Asia resuming, felt rather different than the preceding three years when the ability to travel to Asia was curtailed. I personally spent all of May teaching in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and June and July in Japan serving as the Director of the Harvard Summer School program in Kyoto. It was a pleasure to once again see students have their eyes opened to the wonders of encountering a new culture for the first time. During my time in Japan, I was able to meet with many friends and supporters of the Asia Center. One of the highlights of the summer was participating—along with Professors Christina L. Davis (Director, Program on US-Japan Relations) and Kosuke Imai (Government, Statistics)—in a panel discussion on "Asian Studies: Past, Present, and Future" as part of the 1st Ezra Vogel Memorial Forum at Aichi University, where much of Ezra Vogel’s library is now housed.
The Asia Center remains committed to facilitating the cross-cultural study of Asia at Harvard University. Our programs foster research and bring people together to discuss the interconnected histories of the region and significant issues facing Asia today. Given that many challenging issues are not limited to a single country or region, but transcend borders, the Asia Center’s acknowledgement of the need to carry out research across Asia is all the more important, timely, and necessary. Thanks to the exceptional Asia Center staff, the Center remains a leader in the study of Asia in transnational, transregional, and interdisciplinary perspectives.
This year we have an active line up of presentations in a variety of seminars, including, for example, the Science and Technology Seminars, Southeast Asia Lecture Series, Asia Beyond the Headlines Seminar Series, Thai Studies Seminar Series, and the Philippines Lecture Series. You can view many of these programs on our website. The Asia Center has been able to welcome scholars to our community through our Visiting Scholars, Fellows, and Associates program. As part of its mission to promote intra- and inter-Asian research, we also continue our Asia Center Graduate Student Associates (GSA) program and look forward to welcoming a new cohort of GSAs. The GSA program includes a student colloquium that meets bi-weekly and affords the associates an opportunity to receive feedback on their ongoing research from peers in a variety of disciplines. The Asia Center Publications Program—with its new director, Kristen Wanner, and two new editors, Qin Higley and Daniel Lee—remains exceptionally active in publishing outstanding award-winning monographs. We are also delighted to introduce Rachelle Walsh as the new Director of Finance and Administration at the Asia Center. Her expertise and leadership will play a pivotal role in supporting the Center's continued growth and success.
Last spring, the Asia Center—working closely with the Department of South Asian Studies and its Chair, Professor Parimal Patil—received permission to hire three new Preceptors to teach Southeast Asian languages (Filipino Languages, Indonesian, and Thai). Searches were conducted during the summer. We are pleased to announce the hire of Lady Aileen Orsal as the new Preceptor in Filipino Languages (Tagalog), which is the first time in Harvard’s history that this language will be offered, and Sakti Suryani as the new Preceptor in Indonesian. Please join us in welcoming them to the Harvard community and encourage students to enroll in their Fall term language courses. The search for the Preceptor in Thai is still in progress. These hires—along with last year’s hiring of Hoa Le to teach Vietnamese in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations—mark a significant step forward in advancing the Southeast Asia Initiative at the Asia Center and we would like to thank all our colleagues who assisted with the searches that made these hires possible.
This Fall, the Asia Center will be welcoming its second Artist in Residence, Norman Erikson Pasaribu, a Toba Batak poet writing in Indonesian. Their poetry collection Sergius Mencari Bacchus won the first prize of Jakarta Arts Council’s Poetry Manuscript Competition. Its English translation by Tiffany Tsao won a PEN Translates Award and was a finalist of NSW Premier Translation Prize in 2021. Their collection of short stories Happy Stories, Mostly (tr. Tiffany Tsao) won the UK’s Republic of Consciousness Prize and was longlisted in the International Booker Prize in 2022. Please stay tuned for more information regarding readings, workshops, and panels featuring Norman Erikson Pasaribu this fall.
The Asia Center continues to have close collaborative relationships with other Harvard institutes focused on Asia, including the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies; the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies; the Korea Institute; the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute; the Weatherhead Center’s Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, the Rajawali Foundation Institute, and the Harvard-Yenching Institute. The Asia Center also benefits greatly from our collaborative relationships with centers, institutes, programs, and faculty members from across Harvard’s graduate and professional schools. Indeed, this Fall the Asia Center and the Center for African Studies will host a two-day symposium (Oct. 12th-13th) “Asia-Africa Relations: Its Status and Possible Trajectories.” Additionally, the Asia Center is working closely with the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Graduate School of Design to offer a new option studio this fall. The studio will focus on improving living conditions in refugee camps and will take the students to Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.
To better understand the mission and accomplishments of the Asia Center please visit the Asia Center website, where you will find links to all our programming and other resources for staying informed of the Asia Center’s activities and opportunities. You can subscribe to the weekly Asia Bulletin, the Asia Center This Week newsletter, and the Southeast Asia Spotlight via the homepage. Please stay connected with us and we hope that we will see you soon at one of our upcoming events.
We wish everyone a fulfilling 2023-2024.
With all best wishes,
Victor and William Fung Director, Harvard University Asia Center
James C. Kralik and Yunli Lou Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
Harvard College Professor