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Message from the Head

The Department of Asian Studies is proud of its broad academic scope, including the study of East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia and their global interconnections. This geographic region is currently home to billions of people. In the past two millennia, Asia supported the most dense and largest populations of humans in the world, and its history witnessed the development of countless complex and technologically advanced civilizations. To study and begin to know Asia, therefore, is to learn about and deepen one’s understanding of how to be human in the world.  

Our faculty conduct cutting-edge research in a variety of disciplines, primarily including literature, history, philosophy political science, applied linguistics, art history, and religious studies. Their research focuses on such topics as the modern bullet train, Hiroshima and psychological trauma, gender and Hinduism in Nepal, the ancient Viet and southern Chinese cultures, early modern Vietnam, South Asian architectural history, cosmopolitanism in Hong Kong and Sinophone literature, censorship in transwar Japan, comparative topics in Russian and Chinese literature, Korean detective novels and food studies, Jesuit missionaries in China, and much more.  

Our language faculty are highly trained and effective teachers of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Hindi. We have majors and minors in Asian Studies, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. We are currently developing our course offerings in Asian American Studies, with the aim of having an Asian American Studies minor in the future. 

Asian diasporas across the world are also an important component of Asian Studies, whether they involve Chinese in Africa, Japanese in Brazil, Koreans in Hawaii, or South Asians in the Caribbean. As our department strengthens its commitments to the Global Asias Initiative, an initiative founded and developed here at Penn State by our own, Professor Tina Chen, we come together with our sights on understanding not just the cultures, languages, and histories of singular nations, but the global networks and connections among these. We show that Asia was and always has been a significant player in human history. 

Our department’s peer-reviewed journal, Verge: Studies in Global Asias, published by the University of Minnesota Press, consistently showcases remarkable scholarship that explores the boundaries between the fields of Asian and Asian American Studies. Significantly, Verge was selected as the “Best New Academic Journal” of 2016 by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ), and it received the 2020 PROSE Award for Best New Journal in the Humanities from the Association of American Publishers (AAP). Verge is one of the most important venues featuring cutting-edge scholarship on Asia in global contexts.    

The Penn State Global Asias Summer Institute (SI), which brings a cohort of early-career scholars to our campus every summer, just completed its 8th meeting on “The Politics of Food in Global Asias” under the co-directorship of Krishnendu Ray (NYU) and Jooyeon Rhee (PSU). Our Summer Institutes provide a means for specialists to interact across disciplinary boundaries in a workshop environment, helping articulate and reveal new insights and approaches to research and the fruitful directions it can take. Work from the SI often makes its way into the journal—sometimes in essay form, sometimes as a Convergence feature, and sometimes as a special issue. Such synergy reflects the integrative collaboration facilitated by the Global Asias Initiative. We are planning a very exciting opportunity for next year’s Summer Institute (June 6-10, 2022), which will give pre-tenure colleagues and advanced graduate students an opportunity to join a team of senior scholars working on a project—Tactics and Theories for a Global Asias Praxis—which will be published by the University of Hawai’i Press.   

In addition to supporting the Global Asias Initiative, Asian Studies runs a small Speaker Series and a host of ad hoc events, including international conferences, film series, workshops, seminars, and public lectures, as we continue to reach out to all corners of the Penn State community and beyond. One important event is the “New Book Symposium,” which features the latest monographs published by our faculty. Recent books discussed and featured by invited experts outside of Penn State have included: Ran Zwigenberg, Hiroshima: The Origins of Global Memory Culture (Cambridge, 2014); Jessamyn Abel, The International Minimum: Japan’s Global Engagement in the Twentieth Century (Hawai’i, 2015); Erica Brindley, Ancient China and the Yue (Cambridge, 2015); Kate Baldanza, Ming China and Vietnam: Negotiating Borders in Early Modern Asia (Cambridge, 2016), and Nicolai Volland, Socialist Cosmopolitanism: The Chinese Literary Universe, 1945-1965 (Columbia, 2017). 

Internationally, we are building strong relationships in China, Japan, Korea, and India, as we seek to expand study abroad options for students and opportunities for collaborative scholarship and exchange for faculty and graduate students. With the generous support of a three-year (2015-2018) grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, we were able to conduct exchanges with Nanjing University on multiple fronts, involving undergraduate, graduate, and faculty from both Penn State and Nanjing University. Our Global Japan Project has helped expand Japanese Studies by forging enduring links through research and instruction within the university, in the local community, and between the United States and Japan. It has promoted the teaching of Japanese content, supported workshops and access to digital materials, and facilitated embedded courses for our students to Ibaraki, Japan. And our relationships to Korea and Korean Studies have been growing especially strong in the past five years. The Academy of Korean Studies has recently funded a three-year seed grant, allowing Penn State faculty to develop research and critical studies pedagogy on Korea by offering courses, scholarships, and resources for a host of academic and cultural events. 

In terms of graduate education, our dual-title doctoral program, in partnership with Comparative Literature, Applied Linguistics, Political Science, Art History, History has been growing apace, with a current enrollment of 15 graduate students. Graduates of this dual-title program have been placed in excellent research (tenure-track) and teaching positions around the world, such as the University of Montreal, Colorado State University, Delaware State University, National Zhengzhi University (Taiwan), Harvard University (Postdoctoral Fellowship), and the National University of Singapore. 

Our continued growth in Asian Studies depends also on the support and encouragement from our Asian Studies colleagues and supporters all over the country, especially those who come as Visiting Scholars, who attend our Global Asias conferences, and who participate in our Summer Institutes. We are also deeply grateful for the generous and continued support of donors for their part in helping fund our many programs, activities, and initiatives.  

Erica Brindley, Head of the Department of Asian Studies

Professor of Asian Studies, History, and Philosophy