Ford Foundation Gives Support to International and Area Studies
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Over the past half century, the Ford Foundation has played an important role in the development and support of area and international studies within American higher education. The Foundation was among the first major institutions in the United States to recognize the importance of area expertise and scholarship in the post-World War II era. Over the decades, the Foundation has addressed a number of issues, ranging from the state of higher education in the former colonies, to the opportunities for linkage of specialists across different area and specialist domains, to the force of race and gender within the various professions of expertise. The Foundation has developed Ford offices in several countries to facilitate training, research, advocacy, and service around the world.
In recent years, the Foundation has become interested in the status of area studies and international scholarship within the American academy and specifically the social sciences. Several years ago, through the Social Science Research Council, the Ford Foundation created the International Predissertation Fellowship Program to identify and support specialized training for rising scholars in the core social science disciplines, as a means of sustaining or rebuilding world area expertise within the disciplines of economics, political science, psychology, and sociology. The Foundation has recently refreshed its long-standing interest in the state of scholarship and research on Africa and is presently seeking to produce bridges between learning instruction in gender and womens studies with international and area studies. At the same time the Foundation has sought to give support for innovative avenues of research in the new states and societies created with the disappearance of the Soviet Union.
Over the years, the University of Michigan has played an important role in the development of — and setting the agendas for — area and international studies within American higher education. The University has sought to respond effectively to initiatives such as those taken up, defined, and advanced by Ford. U-M is presently involved in several significant projects in area and international studies with funds, in part, from the Ford Foundation. Together, the projects hold a potential for reshaping and invigorating the Universitys address to the wider world.
Across the disciplines, scholars of Africa face the challenge of grasping the significance of culture within broader processes of change. While the study of culture has claimed an important place in African studies, what remains under-studied is the complex field of connections between culture and broader economic, political, and social processes. In bringing focus to this field, the Center for Afro-american and African Studies (CAAS) seeks to develop — with Michigan faculty, students, and visitors — a more comprehensive way to address several issues:
The ways in which ideas, assumptions, and misconceptions about African culture are drawn into explanations of processes of change;
The extent to which social science explanations of population and development in Africa are saturated by implicit and explicit cultural constructions and understandings;
How representations of African culture — a new ethnology — might be brought more fully into the study of the state in Africa; and how studies of the critique of the state can be more fully understood in their cultural dimensions, rather than assuming that they lie outside culture.
Russian and East European Studies
The Center for Russian and East European Studies (CREES) at U-M has been selected to receive a major grant from the Ford Foundation to support training and research on problems of post-Soviet transitions in the non-Russian republics of the former Soviet Union. The U-M project, "Identity Formation and Social Problems in Estonia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan," was prepared by CREES staff in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of U-M social scientists. Scholars from the following U-M overseas partner institutions also contributed to the proposal: the Institute of International and Social Studies of the Estonian Academy of Sciences (Tallinn, Estonia), the "Social Monitoring" Center of the National Institute of Strategic Studies (Kiev, Ukraine), the Institute of Historical Studies at Lviv State University (Lviv, Ukraine), and the University of World Economy and Diplomacy and the EXPERT Sociological Center (both in Tashkent, Uzbekistan).
Under the auspices of the two-year Ford Foundation grant, U-M graduate students and scholars from Estonia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan will receive training designed to prepare them for collaborative field research in those three countries. The central analytical problem is to understand how various forms of social identity structure the recognition of social problems that accompany post-Soviet transition.
In Winter 1996, U-M researchers and graduate students will make site visits to the three countries to identify scholars from each who will be invited to participate in the projects training and research component. One student, selected through competitive application, will join site visits in each country. U-M students and project participants will receive training in oral history and focus group research methods. A new course exploring the projects substantive issues, "Identity Formation and Social Problems in the Former Soviet Union," will also be offered to U-M students in the Fall of 1996. The preliminary results of student and project participants research will be presented at a final project workshop to be held in Kiev in summer 1997. At this time, participants will also discuss future possibilities for collaboration.
In the fall of 1994, the Ford Foundation initiated a program to support the efforts of university faculty to internationalize the content of womens studies courses and to enhance the role of gender perspectives in international and areas studies courses. Now funded by Ford, the three-year program will develop around the theme, "Differences among Women: International Perspectives," drawing on the successes of the "Differences among Women" project of the Womens Studies Program, and will have the active support of the Universitys new Institute for Research on Women and Gender.
Program activities will begin in Winter 1996 with the selection of a small group of faculty and graduate students which will meet together regularly to identify and discuss curricular conventions and integrative innovations in the fields of womens studies, area studies, and international studies. New and revised courses reflecting these interdisciplinary efforts will be introduced, and a "theme semester," engaging the attention of the entire College of Literature, Science and the Arts will address the project theme. The program will culminate in a major assessment of the progress made over the three-year period toward internationalizing the curriculum of womens studies and promoting gender analysis in the area studies centers and programs at the University of Michigan.