Apr 04 2011

IIAS in 2011

Philippe Peycam

IIAS is starting the year with a number of new initiatives planned under the aegis of our three new thematic clusters – Asian Cities, Politics of Culture and Heritage, and Asian Intra and Global Connectivities – while we will continue to reinforce the Institute’s capacities to meet the numerous challenges I highlighted in my previous note.

ONE SUCH INITIATIVE is a Summer Programme on Cultural Heritage which will be held in Leiden this June. The idea of a summer school took shape following the very successful roundtable on cultural heritage organized by IIAS and the Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF) in Amsterdam last September. This unique event brought members of academic communities together with cultural practitioners from Asia and Europe to openly discuss the philosophy and politics of cultural heritage with a view to proposing new approaches and policies. Among the ideas discussed by the participants from 17 nationalities ranging from Pakistan to Denmark, was that of setting up a high level training platform that would enable scholars and practitioners to develop “situational” methodologies in cultural heritage. This is how the idea of a specialized summer school reserved for young M.A. students and Ph.D. scholars from the world over came about. Prof. Michael Hertzfelt from Harvard University and Prof. Nira Wickramasinghe from Leiden University are the co-organizers of the programme. The training initiative will be developed in collaboration with Leiden University’s Asian Modernity and Tradition Profi le. With over 200 applicants for 25 fully-funded positions, we believe the upcoming summer school will represent a milestone in the fi eld of cultural heritage theory and practice. We expect to conduct similar high-profi le training sessions for promising young scholars annually on a major topic relevant to Asia and Europe.

2011 will also see IIAS organize a series of exciting meetings following the same interactive format as that of the Amsterdam roundtable. In July, we will work with the Indonesian federal and local authorities and the Pacifi c Rim Council on Urban Development to address the critical issue of rising sea water levels and the impact on the social fabric of Indonesia’s coastal cities. This roundtable, part of our urban cluster, will aim at recommending policies while inaugurating what we see as a regular dialogue between local officials and experts together with social science scholars and their institutions. In October, IIAS and the Nanyang Technology University in Singapore will co-organize a roundtable addressing the longstanding interactions existing between the different scientific traditions of the Eurasian continent, from Europe to East Asia, including traditions from South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean world. Finally, with our European Alliance colleagues at the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris, we are currently preparing a series of targeted dialogues on post-colonial legacies.

These will touch on a number of still-sensitive issues such as the writing of a common history, the construction of post-colonial identities in both Europe and its former colonies, and the complex social confi gurations born out of colonization and decolonization processes. The aim of these dialogues framed in a comparative model is to reinforce mutual understanding and the appreciation of the complex imaginary, political and social constructions still existing in ex-colonizing and ex-colonized societies.

In all these activities, IIAS’s vision remains clear and echoes the points outlined in my fi rst note: IIAS wants to play a role not only as a clearing house between Europe and Asia, but also between the established fi elds of humanities and social sciences and the fast transforming societies of Asia. In this way, IIAS can contribute to the debate on the renewal of “Asian studies”. With an agenda espousing some of the main contemporary issues aff ecting Asia, IIAS hopes to strike a balance between topics and interests of immediate social relevance and those calling for refl ections and actions anchored in the long intellectual tradition of exchange between Europe and Asia.

To strengthen this vision, IIAS is embarking on a number of changes in its regular support activities. With our fellowship programme, we will invite the fi rst group of candidates from all over the world to join one of the Institute’s thematic clusters of their choice. An additional fellowship position, the result of an original collaboration between IIAS and the Nalanda-Srivijaya Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, focuses on intra-Asian connectivities in the age of the European colonial presence. This latter initiative refl ects IIAS’s new interest in the constitution of strategic partnerships with our Asian friends.

Another new activity in the making is the institute’s Communication Department. This includes revamping our website to enable easy access to a considerable list of materials and information generated by IIAS over the last two decades. We hope to turn the site into a free resource for whoever “thinks Asia” or does research on the region. The website will grow in symbiosis with the present Newsletter so as to enhance the latter’s role as the main electronic and printed link between “Asianists” around the world. Other new ideas include the development of special rubrics, sometimes worked out in collaboration with our Asian partners and aimed at rendering a diverse expression of what is being done in the fi eld by local researchers and cultural leaders. As in the past, the Newsletter will continue to focus on specifi c topics and highlights. Not surprisingly, they should increasingly refl ect the new areas of interest chosen by IIAS while the periodical will continue to be home to contributions and information on a variety of topics.

I will end my note with some words on the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS), because the present Newsletter will appear in conjunction with the upcoming AAS-ICAS Convention taking place in Hawaii at the end of March. As the host of ICAS’s secretariat, IIAS is proud to be involved in such a major undertaking in collaboration with our partners from the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) in the United States. The vision and tenacity of my colleagues, previous and current, made sure that ICAS not only succeeded as the fi rst Asia-based global network on Asian studies, but that it is now seen as a partner to the long-established model set by AAS. The Hawaii Convention is the result of such an undertaking. Thinking ahead, IIAS is determined to pursue this eff ort, by further anchoring the ICAS network in Asia in a way that it refl ects the fast transformations that are taking place there – with a new generation of scholars and specialists emerging from the major powerhouses that are China, Japan and India, and the less well-known eff orts achieved in smaller and often poorer countries of the vast continental ensemble.

We will make sure readers are kept informed about these exciting new developments. In the meantime, we urge you to keep promoting the cost-free IIAS Newsletter among circles of friends and colleagues both in its electronic and its printed format.

Thank you for your enduring support of IIAS. We look forward to continuing to help you in your work on/in Asia.

Philippe Peycam
Director of IIAS