The Newsletter 76 Spring 2017

The ICAS Book Prize 2017

Paul van der Velde

The ICAS Book Prize (IBP), established by the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) in 2004, and sponsored by The Asian Library at Leiden University (Netherlands) since 2015, aims to create an international focus for academic publications on Asia.

The IBP is the largest region-, theme-, and discipline-transcending book prize in the field of Asian studies. Jury prizes are awarded to the best books in both the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Colleagues’ Choice Award gives the academic community the opportunity to vote for their own favourite publication. Another indispensable component of the IBP is the inclusion of dissertations; Alex McKay, Chair of the ICAS Dissertations Reading Committee, tells us more about this aspect of the Prize in his article below

The seventh edition of the IBP will take place on 20 July 2017, during ICAS 10 in Chiang Mai, Thailand ( The June issue of The Newsletter (#77) will include the shortlisted titles, and a brochure will become available at the time of ICAS 10, which will include all shortlisted titles, winners, jury citations and the full list of accolades awarded. 

The IBP has hitherto always been limited to English-language publications, but the IBP 2017 will for the first time ever also include books in Chinese, Korean, German and French. More than 200 titles were submitted in these ‘new’ languages, marking a promising start thanks to the support of the sponsors in those language areas. The June issue of The Newsletter (#77) will provide exact details about, and pay well-deserved attention to, these local academic institutions. 

The submissions for the English-language IBP

The previous IBP (2015, awarded at ICAS 9 in Adelaide, Australia) saw approximately 50 dissertations and more than 200 books submitted. As we see with each subsequent IBP, the numbers continue to rise. This upcoming edition of the IBP has received 330 English-language books and 126 dissertations! 

The number of worldwide publishers taking part increased only somewhat, from 58 to 64; thus generally remaining constant over the past few editions. However, for the first time we could clearly discern a core group of 7 prolific publishers who submitted more than 15 books. These were Amsterdam University Press, Brill Publishers, Cambridge University Press,Harvard University Asia Center, ISEAS Publishing, NIAS Press,and University of Washington Press. The following 13 publishers submitted 5-15 books: Columbia University Press, Cornell University Press, Hong Kong University Press, Hurst & Company, Lexington Books, NUS Press, Oxford University Press, Peter Lang, Polity Press, Primus Books, Routledge, SUNY Press, and University of Hawai’i Press. The remaining 44 publishers,most of them academic, submitted fewer than 5 books each.If we are permitted to take the IBP as an indication, we couldcomment that a smaller group of publishers seem to beproducing the majority of Asian studies titles. It is certainly an interesting trend to monitor. 

Shifting trends

In our summary of the previous IBP we commented on two noteworthy ‘shifts’. Firstly, we noticed a clear shift among the submitted titles from traditional humanities to contemporary social sciences: 35% fell into the former category, 65% into the latter. During the very first IBP in 2005 those percentages had been near enough reversed. However, this current IBP has in fact seen each category receive an equal number of titles, and so it might have been a premature conclusion. Nevertheless, the other shift we took note of was one involving the authors’ nationalities; and that has again proven to be a trend. Among the submitted English-language publications, the number of authors of Asian descent has over the years risen rapidly, and continues to do so. From 10% in 2005, to 40% of the 500 authors, editors and contributors involved in the publications submitted for the IBP 2017 English edition. More and more, Asian scholars in Asian studies are succeeding in having their work published in English by international publishers. This is one of the reasons we are reaching out to international academic publishers, encouraging them to personally attend the ICAS Asian Studies Book Fair, so that they can meet face-to-face the vast numbers of young Asian scholars who will be presenting their dissertations during ICAS 10. 

Another trend that has become evident over time is an increasing number of studies on ‘Global Asia’, mirroring the rise of Asia on the world scene. Furthermore, it will come as no surprise that almost 50% of the titles submitted are about East Asia, with 60% of those on China. Whereas Japan was always comfortably in second place it now has strong competition from Korea with nearly the same number of books. South Asia is the region with the fewest studies among the submitted titles. India is by far the most studied country in that region, but mostly by Indian scholars. The number of studies on Southeast Asia is clearly on the rise. While Indonesia is most studied there is a growing number of publications on all countries in that region, with a clear interest by authors from other ASEAN countries. For the first time publications on Central Asia were submitted. We hope for more in the future. 

Popular themes

The consistently most popular themes, ever since the first IBP, include arts and culture, diasporas, migration and minorities, East-West relations, gender and identity, language and literature, religion, and society – approached mainly from the academic fields of anthropology and ethnography, history, archaeology, international relations, politics, and philosophy. Increasing in popularity are studies of media and technology, urban culture, natural disasters, war, violence, crime and law, economy, heritage and architecture, in which scholars and practitioners work closely together to uncover new layers of knowledge, the results of which are published in periodicals or edited volumes. This new type of inclusive research has been translated into a considerable surge in the number of edited volumes submitted for the IBP 2017. No less than 50, which is double the amount of the previous IBP. 

The ‘new’ language editions

The June issue of The Newsletter (#77) will include our observations with regard to the French, German, Korean and Chinese IBP editions. It is too early now to comment on the submissions, other than to say that we have been pleasantly surprised with the numbers and interest garnered by the local institutes/universities involved. We look forward to seeing these editions grow steadily and come into their own, as we have seen the English IBP do. 

Paul van der Velde, ICAS Secretariat (