Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies
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Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies (1975)
The coherent program in South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Michigan is of recent origin, but the academic and institutional interest and activity in this region goes back to 1898 when Dean Worcester became a member of the first Philippine Commission under William Howard Taft. Worcester had conducted research in the Philippines in 1886 and in 1890-93, and served as a member of the Philippines Commission until 1913. His library on the Philippines was given to the University to become the base of a specialized collection. Professor Harley Bartlett worked in Sumatra and the Philippines for many years, and Professor Joseph Hayden, twice an exchange professor at the University of the Philippines, served as Vice-Governor of the Philippines from 1933-35. Immediately after World War II, the University of Michigan became the sister institution of the University of the Philippines, and played an important role in the growth of its Joseph Hayden Library and other facilities. Faculty of the University of Michigan, under the direction of Professor Ferrel Heady established the highly successful Institute of Public Administration in the Philippines, and a number of Michigan faculty received important field experience in its early years of operation.
This early relationship with the Philippines was followed by other service programs in South and Southeast Asia. Almost from the beginning of the Teacher Exchange Program of the U.S. Office of Education, the English Language Institute of the University has provided special training programs for Asian teachers of English. More than 400 of these teachers, over the years, have come from South and Southeast Asia. Special training programs for Peace Corps groups assigned to Thailand were established in 1961-62, and the Michigan program was noted as one of the most effective in intensive language training.
In South Asia the University has been equally active. It was a member of the Indo-American program to develop an Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur. Other projects in South Asia included work with the Indian Institute of Public Administration on elections surveys, the programming of population research in India, social science research in Pakistan on the factors affecting agricultural productivity, and University expeditions to photograph Indian art and sculpture. The University has had exchange programs with the University of Baroda and the University of Bombay.
The University’s long interest and considerable experience in South and Southeast Asia has been translated into a specialized training and research program only within the last twenty years. Prior to 1959 there were a number of courses dealing with South and Southeast Asia but no organized program. Course work dates from 1897 when the first courses in Sanskrit were introduced. There was South and Southeast Asian content in special Asian history and geography courses before World War II, and course work in South and Southeast Asian Art, introduced in 1936, left the legacy of a good basic library collection. During World War II language instruction in Malay was temporarily established, and after the war scattered offerings included the British Empire in Asia, Dutch Empire in Southeast Asia, and Vietnamese language. Courses dealing with international relations in Southeast Asia were added in 1951, and in 1956-57 the Center was strengthened by the addition of a South Asian historian, a Southeast Asian geographer, and a South Asian linguist.
In 1958, the decision was made to begin the systematic development of South and Southeast Asian studies at Michigan in order to organize our scattered resources, strengthen the teaching and research interests, and expand the program. The Committee on Southern Asian Studies was established with responsibility for coordination and development of a program in South and Southeast Asian Studies. Support was obtained under Title IV of the Defense Education Act to establish training in Hindi language, an appointment was made in South Asian Political Science, and a South Asian Bibliographer-librarian was hired. In 1961 the Committee was succeeded by the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, which negotiated a five-year grant from the Ford Foundation to develop and enrich the program in South and Southeast Asian Studies. These funds were used for faculty research, graduate student support, program development, and to create new faculty posts. Within the next few years, faculty specializing in South Asia were added in anthropology, economics, geography, religion, history, and public health.
In 1965, the Center was made an NDEA Center for Southeast Asia Language and Area study, and it has continued to obtain funds for this program through the 1970s; in 1979, funding for the South Asia program also was provided. Beginning in 1963, NDEA grants for the study of Southeast Asian languages were provided for students studying Indonesian-Malay and Thai, and in later years the Center added programs in Tagalog, Kawi and Burmese. Grants for the study of South Asian languages are available for study of Hindi-Urdu, Marathi, and Tamil.
Annually, the Center sponsors conferences, many of which result in major publications, as well as an extensive program of lectures and musical performances. During the 1970s the Center program in the humanities expanded greatly, centered on the Indonesian Gamelan orchestra, whose international reputation is enhanced by a series of distinguished visiting performing artists from Indonesia. Continuing international research and service included extensive field programs involving family planning in South and Southeast Asia and population resettlement in Southeast Asia. From 1978 onward, the Center also played a significant role in research and service in the resettlement of Indochinese refugees in Michigan.
By 1975, the Center’s Southeast Asia program was the largest in the United States, and the South Asia program ranked among the four largest. The Center has more than 40 faculty, together with an additional 20 Center Associates who have major research interests in South and Southeast Asia. The Center serves over 100 M.A. and Ph.D. level students, and an average of 15 Ph.D.s specializing in the region are produced each year. There are more than 100 courses dealing with South and Southeast Asia. In twenty years, generous University support, together with Ford Foundation funds, and federal funding under the National Defense Education Act, created one of the more important and productive centers for the study of South and Southeast Asia, and an important part of the University’s unique strength in Asian Studies.