Mar 01 2013

Building community

Philippe Peycam

With an average of 60 postdoctoral fellows per year, from various nationalities, disciplines and backgrounds, IIAS can rightly claim to be supporting one of the most signifi cant communities of Asia scholars in the world. The impressive numbers are primarily the result of the diversity of fellowship programmes off ered by IIAS.

To start with, the institute sponsors a number of positions usually earmarked for one of its three thematic clusters: Asian cities, Asian heritages, Global Asia. (There is also an ‘open’ slot for projects that fall outside the three defi ned categories.) These IIAS-sponsored fellowships represent the large majority of the 1-to-10 month positions on offer.

To their number can be added the joint IIAS-ISEAS fellowship position with its unique transregional character. The position was fi rst fi lled by two fellows, Elizabeth Chandra and Albert Tzeng, who focussed on ‘intra-Asian connectivity’; the next timeslot for this position will focus on a Heritage-related subject.

Another collaborative project is the one supported through IIAS by the Gonda Foundation. It is meant for researchers working on Indology and who need access to the invaluable collections at Leiden University. Thanks to this programme, IIAS remains one of the most active gatherings of South Asian classicists in the West.

Similarly, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and IIAS have been collaborating for nearly a decade to facilitate exchanges between Dutch and Chinese academic institutions. We, as a result, regularly receive scholars from China who join the larger group of IIAS fellows in Leiden.

Two new and exciting fellowship partnerships are also worth describing here. One relates to the Urban Knowledge Asia programme (UKNA), for which IIAS serves as the coordinating institute and full member. IIAS welcomes a number of scholars from India and China working on urban-related subjects; at IIAS in Leiden they work closely with their colleagues attached to TU Delft, also member of UKNA. The second new initiative recently developed is the joint programme with the African Studies Centre (ASC), on the subject of Africa-Asia relations. This pioneering programme will ensure that IIAS and ASC, in line with their involvement in the establishment of a lasting Asia-Africa academic exchange platform, will be on the forefront of this emerging interregional dialogue.

I will not mention the self-funded positions nor will I go into detail about some of the ‘historical’ research positions that have been granted to a few individuals for multi-year periods. What I should add here, however, is that ever since we decided to revise the fellowship programme and implement the three thematic clusters – a process that has meant the reallocation of funds and the reorganization of workspace (especially after the closing of the IIAS facilities in Amsterdam) – a new dynamic has taken root among the fellows in residence in Leiden. This sense of community, shared with the IIAS team, has taken many forms: dinners at the institute, fi lm screening sessions, brown bag lunches, lecture training exercises, cultural outings, etc. All activities contribute to closer ties between fellows, knowledge exchanges, interactions with the IIAS staff , and sometimes direct contributions to the shaping of new IIAS initiatives.

The secret of this chemistry? The endless commitment of the IIAS staff, including Fellowship Coordinator Sandra van der Horst. Sandra is more than a coordinator. She plays the role of cultural ambassador, broker and facilitator for the numerous issues and experiences encountered by newcomer fellows. Well done Sandra, and thank you!