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Author: Jeffrey G. Barlow
Title: Doing Asian Studies On the Web
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 1999
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Source: Doing Asian Studies On the Web
Jeffrey G. Barlow


vol. 2, no. 2, August 1999
Article Type: Site Review
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3310410.0002.212
PDF: Download full PDF [55kb ]

Doing Asian Studies On the Web

This is a draft of an article to be published in hard copy in the volume History Highway 2000, ed. Dennis A. Trinkle. (M.E. Sharpe: 1999)

Jeffrey G. Barlow

Introduction

The Internet, particularly its graphical portion, the World Wide Web (WWW), is clearly the most important development in the production and communication of scholarly work since the development of the telephone—some would probably say since the development of the printing press. Members of the academy naturally view the world largely through lenses developed in their respective discipline, and the Web is no exception. Each of us probably feels that it has been a unique advantage (or disadvantage!) to our particular field. While not daring to speak for members of other fields, for those of us in Asian Studies, the Web has been a particular blessing.

Asian Studies, including Asian History is, generally speaking, a very abstruse field that requires long years of study in difficult languages and a familiarity with an alien culture. This may simply include a need to use the Chinese or Japanese languages—and in many Ph.D. programs it now is common to require some familiarity with both and a mastery of one. But those who venture into such elusive realms as Buddhist Studies or Central Asian Studies may face a lifetime of work in very difficult and unusual languages, and usually several of them. In addition, we often study very large populations over very long periods so that the distinction between those of us studying, say, Ancient China and Modern China is far greater than that between a Colonial Americanist and a Modern Americanist. We share the study of China, but our fields hardly overlap at all; even the key language differs markedly from ancient to modern eras.

As a result of these characteristics of our field, most of us labor in relative isolation compared to our colleagues in American or European Studies. Only the largest institutions in the world have more than one person in any of the sub-fields of Asian Studies such as Ancient or Pre-modern China or Modern Japan. In most history departments, for example, the Asianist is responsible for the entire histories of enormous populations over very long periods of time—China and Japan is the most common configuration, with frequent pressure to teach Vietnamese or Korean history. And it would not be uncommon for such a faculty member to have no colleagues at all in their division, such as Social Sciences or Humanities, perhaps none at their entire institution. And many nearby institutions may have no Asianists at all.

Moreover, library holdings at our institutions are likely to reflect our rarified place in the scheme of things—if we are fortunate, the catalog will include a few interesting older books, most probably placed by early missionaries, and then the collection we ourselves build for our students. Holdings of research materials for our esoteric scholarly interests are usually completely out of the question. Many smaller libraries even have a rule against ordering works in languages not extensively taught on their campus. Our research then, usually demands extensive travel and a deep pocket for financing hours spent at copying machines.

For Asianists then, the Internet has been truly transformational. Seemingly overnight we now have email access to colleagues all over the world and can call up original documents in our particular language of interest from the important libraries and research centers particular to our field of study. Not only has this meant that individuals are no longer isolated, but it has also encouraged the creation of communities of discourse around subjects formerly so esoteric as to barely exist at all. As I direct the Matsushita Center for Electronic Learning at Pacific University, a major charge of which is to assist Asianists and students of Asia in electronic communication, I receive many requests for assistance in forming such communities of discourse. Most recently, a Chamic studies group—a minority people of central Vietnam whose culture was largely displaced by Vietnamese southward expansion following the tenth century A.C.E.—has been forming around email conversations and a resultant listserv.

WEB SITES IN ASIAN STUDIES

Chinese Daoists, adherents of an ancient religion/philosophy, traditionally answered attempts to elicit generalizations about their mysterious and often contradictory beliefs with the adage "Those who speak do not know; those who know do not speak!" It is with extreme reluctance, then, that any student of this tradition would dare to list his or her favorite web sites. To paraphrase another Daoist statement, one might say "The Web that can be defined is not THE web." —Meaning that the WWW is so extensive and so mutable that generalizations are difficult indeed.

My standards for selection here are that the site provides some element of interest to scholars and serious students in the field. I have queried colleagues in fields other than my own for their nominations in this regard. In addition, I think that such a site should have some history to it (relative of course, to the key fact that the web itself has existed only since 1993 as a scholarly phenomenon); some fine sites are created and then not maintained or updated. An excellent site should, like the Web itself, be constantly growing so that it repays frequent visits. In addition, I have tried to follow the standards which the editors of the Journal of the Association for History and Computing are developing in our project to define "Exemplary Practices for Electronic Evidence"http://mcel.pacificu.edu/JAHC/EpeeI2.htm,: —that a site meet certain high standards for authority, citation, organization, and so on.

An important issue of particular importance to Asianists because the development of our field, in the United States at least, has been closely tied to the Cold War, is the high degree of politicization of the field. Any site dealing with a Communist or formerly Communist country, for example, is certain to be the subject of heated debates as to objectivity. Rather than continually referring to this issue, I simply note here that it would be a rare site where such issues can be completely avoided, and the reader must continually exercise judgement as to relative biases of particular sites.

With these many caveats, then, here are my selections for particularly useful sites in Asian history.

By metasites I mean what is often called a "portal" in search engine and commercial sites: a large site which exists primarily to lead visitors to more specialized sites in the subject area. Here, as in most fields I suspect, the metasites are those tied to the databases of the WWW Virtual Library. This explanation is from the public materials of the Virtual Library:

The Virtual Library is a distributed-responsibility WWW cataloguing project where each topic, or division, is maintained by volunteers — experts in the field they are maintaining.

This site is a catalog of all the VL Divisions, worldwide. This is a service provided to the 200+ Maintainers of the Virtual Library and the public at large. Our hope is that this centralized data, distributed responsibility database will serve as the definitive guide to the Virtual Library, providing a searchable index to the various parts of the Project.

The Virtual Library much simplifies the historian' search for relevant sites. Each library is maintained by specialists, usually quite eminent ones, who labor to winnow electronic sites, including those which meet certain standards. Unfortunately, the chaos of the web is such that their imprimatur can be considered only so useful—many sites may contain documents or pages, which meet no evident standards. But any serious search should begin with some unit of the Virtual Library. The library is divided roughly by subject field, following traditional standards. Each of these constitutes then a metasite. The most comprehensive list of its many divisions which I have located is the "distributed subject catalogue" found at: http://www.fisk.edu/vl/Overview2.html Another convenient index is the alphabetical listing of categories found at: http://vlib.stanford.edu/Overview.html Any search for historical materials in any field might profitably begin at one of these sites.

In Asian Studies the grandest of the WWW virtual library sites is clearly the metasite at the Australian National University (Coombs) maintained by Dr. T. Matthew Ciolek and found at http://coombs.anu.edu.au/WWWVL-AsianStudies.html Dr. Ciolek is one of the early entrants into the Asian Studies sections of the World Wide Web and deserves much credit for his work in many aspects of this field. The Coombs site is staggering in its extent and will lead the visitor to literally thousands of additional sites in every conceivable field of Asian Studies. An index of its importance is that every scholar I queried mentioned Coombs as an important site.

Another important metasite is the Asian Studies WWW Virtual Library formerly at the Universita de Venenzia, relocated to Harvard at: http://www.icg.fas.harvard.edu/~wwwvl-ea/index.html This site is an exemplary one in that it gives good information on its standards and ratings, as well as being a very comprehensive gateway. To quote from its self-description, it is:

" a large-scale, distributed, collaborative project providing an up-to-date, subject-oriented guide to networked scholarly documents, resources and information systems concerned with social sciences research on Asia." Statement found at: http://coombs.anu.edu.au/WWWVLAsian/VLRules.html

Another Metasite, this one at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, has been nominated by Geoff Wade, Research Officer at the Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong. Found at: http://lark.cc.ukans.edu/~eastasia/linkcall.html this is an astonishingly large and diverse site. Its many materials on using Asian languages on the Internet are particularly useful as this is a key problem for Asianists on the WWW.

While more of a general search engine than a metasite, an experimental site worth noting (though it is also worth noting that many electronic experiments come to naught) is the search engine of the Library of Congress, again nominated by Geoff Wade. This engine can search the enormous holdings of the Library and has facilities for very sophisticated narrowly defined searches. It is found at: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/catalog/

Another site can be found at: http://www.wcsu.ctstateu.edu/socialsci/area.html This metasite, "World Area Studies Resources", sponsored by Western Connecticut State University, is one of those surprising sites which appears to be largely the work of a single zealous individual, in this case, "J. Bannister." While this site fails to meet some important standards as to credibility, I list it here because of its encyclopedic character. It covers not only Asian Studies but many other areas as well and has won a number of awards.

Though not precisely a metasite, the Council of East Asian Libraries, maintained at the very rich University of Oregon Darkwing server at: http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~felsing/ceal/welcome.html can lead the researcher to a host of specific resources. It also links to a series of pages on how best to access character-based Asian languages on the Internet. Some of these pages have unfortunately not been updated recently. But many of the links are useful ones.

Another resource-oriented site is the Guide to online bookstores in Asian Studies: http://www.ciolek.com/WWWVLPages/AsiaPages/VLBookshops.html These shops have a strong internet presence, including on-line ordering procedures in several cases.

Area or Country studies Sites

EAST ASIA

The metasites listed above are a useful gateway into Asia on the web, but subject area sites devoted to geographic areas or to individual countries are also very important ones, of course. A good place to begin for country-specific search engines is again at the metasite at Australian National University on the Coombs server, found at: http://www.ciolek.com/SearchEngines.html#asia While this entire article "Annotated Guide to WWW Search Engines" edited by Dr Ciolek is a very useful one, by scrolling down to the entry "Simple Search Engines, Asia Databases," one encounters a wide variety of search engines in individual countries of Asia. Most are commercial sites, but as they contain search engines for sites specific to that country or culture, each is an important resource for that country and will presumably uncover materials not found in larger sites or search engines.

An area wide site, also nominated by Geoff Wade, is maintained by the organization for Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation. It is a gigantic site with many free downloads of publications found at: http://www.apecsec.org.sg/ This would be particularly useful for those working in recent history, and in economic issues, of course. Here follow references to a few interesting sites specific to given countries or cultural areas:

China

Again, we begin with sites of broader interest.

Chinese sites, particularly those located in China proper or in Taiwan, are usually dominated by their orientation toward the issue of the twentieth century, the Chinese communist revolution. Both the Chinese (PRC) and Taiwanese (ROC) governments, schools, and think tanks maintain a wide variety of tacitly competing sites. The extension of the WWW to China raises a number of issues for the Chinese government, of course, some related to cultural issues such as the high degree of sexuality found in American web sites, common to Western eyes but offensive to Chinese ones, and political issues as well.

  • A large commercial agency which is attempting to avoid these issues while facilitating the expansion of the WWW for business purposes is "Chinese Window." Their North American site can be found at: http://china-window.com/northusa/chinw97.htm
  • One of the oldest WWW sites maintained in China is that of the Institute for High Energy Physics, Beijing. It can be found at: http://solar.rtd.utk.edu/~china/china.html
  • An example of the politicization of the Chinese Studies field, as well as an example of how scholars may benefit from it, is the extensive on-line archives of the works of Mao Zedong found at: http://www.blythe.org/mlm/msw/mao_sw.htm . This homage to a Chinese revolutionary is in English, apparently maintained by the Communist Party of Peru, and is hosted on a server in the United States.
  • For the People's Republic of China (mainland or Beijing), many might find useful the site of the US embassy in Beijing: http://www.redfish.com/USEmbassy-China/sandt/sandt.htm

Taiwan, being very much wealthier and having a well-established and highly competitive electronics industry has a wide variety of sites. In addition, the government of Taiwan has, so far as we know, made no attempts in recent years to regulate or police the WWW.

  • The WWW Virtual Library site for Taiwan is maintained at Tung Nan (Dong Nan) Junior College of Technology in Taiwan, located at: http://peacock.tnjc.edu.tw/taiwan-wwwvl.html While this site was an exhaustive one, it should be mentioned that it has apparently not been updated since September of 1997 and must be badly dated. We list it simply because it is part of the WWW Virtual Library.
  • An index of Taiwanese organizations can be found at: http://www.taiwandc.org/index.html
  • The central scholarly institution in Taiwan is the Academica Sinica Taiwan, found at: http://www.sinica.edu.tw/ Its site is a true treasure for Asian historians as it permits full text retrieval of 92 million characters of ancient Chinese texts.

Japan

Japan has been surprisingly slow to take to the Internet, though its use and the number of Japanese servers has been accelerating rapidly in recent months.

  • The U.S.-Japan Technology Management Center at Stanford University has long been one of the important centers for contemporary economic issues in Japanese studies. It can be found at: http://fuji.stanford.edu/ It also hosts many important sites such as that of the Japanese Diet. The "J-Guide" accessible from this site is also the WWW Virtual Library for Japanese Studies.
  • A specifically Japanese metasite is that of the Japanese Information Network found at: http://www.jinjapan.org/index.html This site has a very sophisticated (if annoyingly slow) search engine which will turn up both graphical and textual items related to historical terms such as "Heian." The site is more oriented toward contemporary topics than historical ones, but is still well worth a visit. It should be noted that as of this writing there were many bad links in the site and one wonders if it is being maintained adequately.
  • The Japan Policy Research Institute: http://www.nmjc.org/jpri/, begun by Chalmers Johnson, is a very active rapidly growing site with a great deal of information relating to historical and contemporary issues affecting Japan, and U.S.-Japanese relations.
  • An interesting site in Japanese Studies is that maintained at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, the Network Pacific Asia, found at: http://law.rikkyo.ac.jp/npa/indx.htm It provides entrée to a number of journals, book reviews, etc., all of use to the scholar in this field.

Korea

The WWW Virtual Library for Korean Studies, like Korea itself, is divided into North and South, but both are to be found at Duke University: http://www.duke.edu/~myhan/b_SK.html Doubtless this solves a few problems for Korean scholars, but it seems an unnecessary complication to a historian.

Vietnam

Here we treat Vietnam as an East Asian nation, revealing a Sinologist's cultural bias. Many would treat it as Southeast Asian, of course. The Internet in Vietnam faces many of the same problems as does the Internet in China. While the government is eager to exploit its commercial potential, it also fears the possible cultural and political consequences of complete transparency. As a result many Vietnamese sites are maintained abroad, no few by ardently anti-Communist refugees of the former Saigon regime.

  • The WWW Virtual Library for Vietnam can be found at: http://coombs.anu.edu.au/WWWVLPages/VietPages/WWWVL-Vietnam.html This seems to be the most highly commercialized of the WWWVL portals.
  • A useful commercial site in Hanoi is Vietnam Online, found at: http://www.vietnamonline.net/
  • Nominated by William S. Turley, a noted Vietnam specialist, this site is maintained by the Vietnamese government. It has an astonishingly traditionally romantic Vietnamese look to it, and has, at this writing, some problems in trying to mix Vietnamese and English scripts. Some of the conversions simply do not work and it often serves up a confusing mix of the two. But it is a very useful gateway into a great deal of information in and about Vietnam. It is found at: http://home.vnn.vn/index_e.html

One of the most common needs of specialists in Vietnamese history is, of course, to teach the Vietnam war. Basis resources include:

SOUTH ASIA

The South Asian metasite for the WWW Virtual Library is found at the South Asia Resource Access on the Internet site at Columbia University, found at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/libraries/indiv/area/sarai/ Of all the Virtual Library sites, this has one of the cleanest and most useful opening pages, from which one can move quickly to a wide range of specific materials.

India The WWW Virtual Library site for India can be found at:http://webhead.com/WWWVL/India/

SOUTHEAST ASIA

The WWW Virtual Library for Southeast Asian Studies is hosted at the University of Leiden and is located at: http://iias.leidenuniv.nl/wwwvl/southeast.html Here one can find good portals for eleven different countries of this region.

  • Also nominated by Geoff Wade, the Southeast Asian site at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is an impressive one. It is very easy to use in that the opening or splash page loads quickly the site quickly opens to a wide variety of well-considered and deeply arrayed resources. http://www.library.wisc.edu/guides/SEAsia/
  • A metasite for South-East Asia is located at: http://sunsite.nus.sg/asiasvc.html This site is a pleasure in that it opens quickly with a minimal menu with quickly leads the reader into a wide variety of electronic resources.

CULTURE:

The Internet world of Asian culture can, of course, be entered via the many resources listed above. But here follow some noteworthy sites which might otherwise escape the researcher's browser:

Asian Art:

The WWW Virtual Library for Asian art is hosted by the indefatigable Nixa Cura and can be found at:http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/fineart/html/chinese/index.html

Philosophy/Religion:

The index for the WWW Virtual Library in Religions can be found at: http://www.vlib.org/Religion.html Sadly, this site is not highly developed in religions outside East Asia.

Buddhism:

Buddhism is one of those truly world religions which has quickly moved onto the WWW. It is striking that adherents of this truly ancient religion/philosophy would be so quick to adapt to this technology, as shown by the thousands of Buddhist sites hosted worldwide. It is difficult to point to any one or two sites, as Buddhists are sometimes maddeningly diffident as to their own merits and slow to criticize others. There is, therefore, no one real entry to this world.

  • One site worth mentioning, although it has not been updated for several years, is that hosted by Martin Baumann in the U.K. This site, found at: http://www.sunderland.ac.uk/~os0dwe/bs10.html contains a wonderful series of links to English-language bibliography on Buddhism in Europe.
  • Another site maintained by an individual enthusiast is that of Charles Muller, Professor of East Asian Philosophy and Religion at Toyo Gakuen University, Chiba, Japan. Found at: http://www.human.toyogakuen-u.ac.jp/~acmuller/index.html this site opens into a number of Buddhist and Japanese Study resources. It is worth visiting if only for the index of Buddhist terms in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Professor Muller also shows a degree of thoughtfulness too often lacking in Asian-related sites in that he provides links necessary to download useful software for viewing his site and other encoded ones. He also hosts the Electronic Buddhist Texts Initiative, a promising resource for scholars and students in this field: http://www.human.toyogakuen-u.ac.jp/~acmuller/ebti.htm>
  • A site with gorgeous Buddhist art is Buddhist Studies and the Arts, found at http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/%7Errscott/

Taoism/Daoism

The WWW Virtual Library site for Taoism is found at: http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/taoism/

ORGANIZATIONS

Research should always include contacts with key scholarly organizations in one's field. Here are some of the major ones in Asian Studies.

  • The Asia Society, according to its own web pages, is America's leading institution dedicated to fostering an understanding of Asia and communication between Americans and the peoples of Asia and the Pacific. A nonprofit, nonpartisan educational institution, the Asia Society presents a wide range of programs including major art exhibitions, performances, international corporate conferences and contemporary affairs programs. http://www.asiasociety.org/
  • The Association for Asian Studies (AAS), with its many regional associations, is the leading professional organization for Asianists. Their site can be found at: http://www.aasianst.org/
  • One of the more active regional associations of the AAS is ASPAC, (Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast) At their site are posted a number of papers produced by scholars in the field of Asian Studies. It is found at: http://mcel.pacificu.edu/aspac/

Please note that a web page with live links to all the sites mentioned above can be found at: http://mcel.pacificu.edu/barlow/research.html

Jeffrey Barlow is the Matsushita Chair of Asian Studies at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, and editor of the Journal of the Association for History and Computing. He has written four books and a number of articles in Chinese and Chinese-American history. He is a frequent traveler to Asia, and has lived in China for more than six years, one year of which was spent working on a 64K Kaypro computer, using a voltage regulator somewhat smaller than a Volkswagen. He is also the webmaster for the Association of Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast (ASPAC), whose site can be found at: http://mcel.pacificu.edu/aspac/

barlowj@pacificu.edu