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The Harvard University Asia Center was founded during the 1997-1998 academic year as a university-wide research center to provide an intellectual meeting ground for faculty members, students, scholars, and other professionals engaged with Asia. Other early goals of the Asia Center were to promote research and training on Asia and particularly on the challenges facing Asian nations; coordinate activities and programs among Harvard's existing Asia-related centers; and improve connections between the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the other Harvard schools. The Asia Center was also charged with expanding the study of South and Southeast Asia at Harvard, a goal partially attained with the 2003 establishing of the South Asia Initiative, which was formally recognized as an academic institute in 2013 and became the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute in 2017. The Center also raised funds for two endowed Southeast Asia-related professorships at Harvard and in 2014 established its Thai Studies Program.
Much has changed in the 21 years since its founding. The Asia Center's current mission statement was developed in October 2017:
Generating and sharing knowledge about Asia in transnational and transregional perspective. Fostering teaching, collaboration, and innovation across and beyond cultural and disciplinary boundaries.
The Asia Center's current priorities, also articulated in October 2017:
oFostering research and teaching on Asia in transnational and transregional perspective, recognizing that Asian nations and their peoples have been inextricably interconnected with one another and with those of other regions for much of history;
oIncreasing the resources and number of Harvard faculty members and students engaged in the study of Asia by promoting expansive and inclusive coverage, with particular attention to strengthening teaching and research at Harvard on Southeast Asia;
oAdvancing new transdisciplinary knowledge on Asia by catalyzing the interaction and collaboration of faculty members and students from across Harvard's many schools;
oForging inclusive networks representing varied perspectives and backgrounds by connecting faculty members and students with scholars, practitioners, professionals, policy makers, and communities in the United States, Asia, and globally to address critical transregional challenges and opportunities, and to foster international understanding and strengthen mutual respect.
The Asia Center focuses its initiatives, events, and student and faculty grants on the study of East, South, and Southeast Asia in transnational, transregional, and transdisciplinary perspective, complementing the work of Harvard's Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Korea Institute, Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, and Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies. At Harvard, activities related to Central Asia are supported by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, and those related to West Asia (the Middle East) are supported by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
The Asia Center's many events - more than 100 lectures, seminars series, conferences, workshops, symposiums, exhibits, and film series annually - bring to campus notable academics, government officials, business leaders, artists, and other specialists as featured speakers and panelists on topics critical to Asia and its connections with other regions. The Asia Center actively supports academic research and training through its robust faculty and student grants programs, which have increased dramatically in the last two decades. In recent years, the Asia Center has made many changes to governance, programming, community, and research support, including inaugurating a Graduate Student Associates Program, Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, and new Affiliates Program. The Asia Center's widely respected Publications Program annually publishes at least a dozen titles on East Asian humanities, many of which have won awards from national and international scholarly associations. For more on the Asia Center's activities, see its new website and 2018-2019 annual report.
The Center has a very active Publications Program, which features three series: the Harvard East Asian Monographs, initiated in 1956, with a total of approximately 400 titles by the end of 2015, the Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series, with more than 100 titles, and the Harvard Contemporary China Series, with 18 titles. Publications are distributed through Harvard University Press.
The Harvard University Asia Center is directed by Professor Karen Thornber, Victor and William Fung Director, Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and of Comparative Literature, and Chair of the Harvard Asia Center Council. Preceding Professor Thornber as Director were Professor Ezra Vogel (1997-1999), Professor William Kirby (1999-2002), Professor Dwight Perkins (2002-2005), Professor Tony Saich (2005-2008), and Professor Arthur Kleinman (2008-2016), as well as two Acting Directors: Professor Michael Puett and Professor Andrew Gordon.