Asian Studies Earns Department Status
A grant of nearly $300,000 from the New York-based Henry Luce Foundation will make it possible for Occidental College to expand its Asian studies program by hiring a full-time professor of Japanese history.
The new position is scheduled to be filled in time for the 2001-02 academic year and will include a secondary emphasis on Korean history.
The position is being added at the same time the College elevates its Asian studies program to departmental status, a move that boosts Occidental’s national stature as a resource for scholarship on Pacific Rim culture, politics, arts and history.
“In many ways, this is an emerging field,” says Dale Wright, the David B. and Mary H. Gamble Professor of Religion who teaches classes in Asian studies. “It is something that didn’t exist at most colleges and universities until the 1970s, when Japan was rising as an industrial power and the balance of trade with the United States was incredibly lopsided. Suddenly, Asian studies started to appear when it became clear that Asian countries, Japan in particular, would be major world powers. Just like universities had European studies, they would need Asian studies, too.”
Occidental students have studied in Japan for years, and the College offers courses in Japanese language and literature, but there has never been a full-time appointee in Japanese history. “We wanted to bolster an area that’s been very important for a long time and this is a good start,” says Wright. “No doubt, the department of Asian studies will evolve further as the years go by.”
“We certainly expect it to continue to grow in importance and we expect the number of majors to increase,” adds Louise Yuhas, chairwoman of the Asian studies program. “There is so much interaction between the United States and Asia in trade and diplomacy. The more people become familiar with other cultures, the better off we all are.”
The study of Asian cultures is a long-standing tradition at Occidental. Toshiro Shimanouchi ’31 served as a translator for top government officials in Japan. Prominent Chinese exchange students studied at the campus in the 1930s, and Oxy was the first postsecondary institution in the country to enroll a Japanese student after World War II. The College initiated its innovative Asian studies curriculum in the 1960s, and the program developed steadily over the next few decades. A minor in Asian studies was established in the 1970s and a formal academic program offering a major in the field began in 1989.
The College is an active member of ASIANetwork, a consortium of private liberal arts colleges that promotes Asian studies at the undergraduate level. By virtue of its location in Los Angeles, Occidental also has enormous resources at its disposal in various Asian communities in and around the city. Within 30 miles of campus are major Asian museums, corporate offices, historical societies, consulate offices, and large populations of Asian immigrants.
Occidental’s commitment to Asian studies comes at a time of major demographic change in California. Between 1990 and 1998, the Census Bureau reports that the state became home to 990,000 new residents of Asian descent, the largest total in the nation. Nationwide, the Asian and Pacific Islander population was 10.5 million in 1998, an increase of 41 percent from 1990.
The Luce award will be payable over four years, after which Occidental will continue funding the faculty position and other associated department expenses. The Henry Luce Foundation was established in 1936 by the late Henry R. Luce, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc. It has assets of about $1 billion. The foundation has a particular interest in Asian scholarship because Henry R. Luce’s parents, Henry Winters Luce and Elizabeth R. Luce, were educational missionaries to China. The couple’s four children were born in China.