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The Past, Present, and Future of AAS-in-ASIA

Because our AAS-in-ASIA conferences are so new, I would like to use my first presidential column to highlight their past, present, and future. The brainchild of my presidential predecessors, AAS-in-ASIA began in 2014 as an experiment. The vision was for AAS to work with a host institution in Asia to facilitate participation amongst AAS members and Asian scholars across Asia. By bringing Asian specialists from abroad together with scholars in Asia—who were not necessarily members of AAS and perhaps not able to attend the annual conferences held in North America—the conference originators hoped to spark new and fruitful areas of collaboration. The original idea was that AAS-in-ASIA would be smaller-sized conferences providing the opportunity to participate on panel sessions and network with colleagues in a more intimate setting. The conference has been extraordinarily successful and has been mushrooming in size. I invite everyone to consider participating in these conferences and to submit your suggestions for possible new venues in Asia in the future.

The Past

The first AAS-in-ASIA conference was hosted by National University of Singapore in 2014. The organizers expected the conference to be small—perhaps some 50 panels and maybe 200 or so participants. They were stunned when over 328 panel proposals were submitted! The program committee had to make very difficult decisions given limited conference space. Even though the organizers decided to accept 80 panels, the rejection rate was a surreal 75%. Nevertheless, the Singapore conference attracted 548 participants from 30 countries.

The conference has grown rapidly in the two succeeding years. The second AAS-in-ASIA was held in Taipei, hosted by Academia Sinica in 2015. That year there were 120 panels and a total of 617 people from 32 countries in attendance. The third conference, in 2016, was hosted by Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. By then the conference had grown to 217 panels and was attended by 1,283 participants from 40 countries.

The Immediate Present

The 2017 conference, with a theme of “Asia in Motion: Beyond Borders and Boundaries,” will be held at Korea University in Seoul, June 24-27. Although the final figures are not available, there are 175 panels and already 841 participants have registered. In addition to the keynote by Professor Wen-hsin Yeh, four special roundtables, panels, and book exhibits, our Seoul hosts, working with Korea Tourism Organization, have also arranged a final day of interesting tour options. The deadline for submitting papers has long passed, but registration to attend the conference is still possible. For further information, please go to the conference website.

The 2018 AAS-in-ASIA conference will be in New Delhi, India in July 2018, hosted by Ashoka University. Planning is well underway. The call for proposals will open over the summer and the deadline for panel proposal submission will be October 31. The conference theme is “Asia in Motion: Reimagining Geographies & Genealogies.” Panels are invited which address the spatial, geographic, climatic, linguistic, environmental, cultural, literary, historical, religious, folk, and archaeological dimensions of conference theme. Organizers are also issuing a special invitation to submit panels on monsoons, highlighting their theme of the problem of understanding Asia’s geographical genealogies. Generally speaking, panels composed with a consideration of gender, academic rank, national origin, and/or disciplinary approach will be favored over narrowly constructed panels. Even beyond the theme of the conference, panels addressing topics of broad relevance will also be considered.

The Future

Recognizing that AAS-in-ASIA is succeeding beyond its creators’ wildest dreams is bringing new challenges, foremost of which is finding suitable venues for such a large conference (to say nothing of debates about ideal conference size, fee structures, frequency, relative difficulty of obtaining visas, and the like). We envision rotating the sites of AAS-in-ASIA conferences among the four regions into which AAS itself is divided, namely China and Inner Asia, Northeast Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Thus we hope to find a venue in Southeast Asia for the 2019 conference; in Inner Asia and China for 2020; in Northeast Asia for 2021, and in South Asia for 2022 (recognizing this rotation may shift according to the convenience of a given host institution).

Because the conference has rapidly grown to a significant size, finding host institutions is becoming a challenge. Although AAS does provide financial and logistical support, a significant amount of work involved in organizing this conference falls to the host institution. In some cases, a given country’s academic institutions or conference venues are too small or otherwise insufficiently developed to handle a conference of the size that AAS-in-ASIA has already become. We also face the issue of political sensitivity entailed in the complex histories of individual countries and regional interactions. Each country has topics, albeit to varying degrees, which are considered tabooed. The governments of many countries are pursuing policies which scholars wish to critique, leading to calls for boycotts or other forms of voicing scholarly objections.

However, given the evident vibrancy of the AAS-in-ASIA conferences to date, it is clear these challenges are worth overcoming. I would like to use this presidential column to thank the scholars and host institutions who have made the first four years of the AAS-in-ASIA experiment such as success. I would particularly like to thank Prasenjit Duara and the Asia Research Institute of National University of Singapore; Fan-Sen Wang, Hu Siao-chen, and Academia Sinica; Keiko Ikeda and Doshisha University; Sungtaek Cho and his staff at the Research Institute for Korean Studies at Korea University; and Aparna Vaidik, Ali Imran, and Vineet Gupta at Ashoka University for all their work and that of their colleagues in coordinating the AAS-in-ASIA conferences organized thus far.

Looking to the future, I would also like to use this presidential column to invite scholars at Asian institutions to consider hosting a conference in upcoming years. Your participation is vital to ensuring that we will be able to continue to rotate the conference in countries and institutions across Asia. Hosting AAS-in-ASIA is an opportunity to showcase Asian academic institutions and develop ever-stronger networks across Asia and across the globe. In its current format, AAS-in-ASIA conferences need venues that can handle 100-200 panel sessions (held over the course of 2-3 days), with rooms capable of holding audiences of 20-50 people each. In addition, conferences would ideally be located in areas with convenient and reasonably priced hotels for upwards of some 700 participants. If you are interested and would like to learn more about just how much work is entailed, please contact me at kabowie@wisc.edu and/or Krisna Uk, AAS Senior Advisor to the Board of Directors: Development and Strategic Initiatives, at krisnauk@asian-studies.org

I hope to see many of you in Seoul in June or at future AAS-in-ASIA conferences across Asia!

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