Animals, Anniversaries, Archives, and Food: A Few AAS 2017 Panels I Wish I Could Catch

The following is a revised and expanded version of an article that first appeared in the December 2016 E-Newsletter.


This is my first year working for the AAS rather than being an attendee at the annual conference. Although there are plenty of good things about my job, the one downside is that I most likely won’t have time to catch many panels. Still, old habits die hard, and as soon as the conference program arrived in my office I sat down and read through it—impressed, as usual, by the breadth and depth of the Asian Studies field.


Panel topics at AAS always cover an enormous range of time periods, geographic places, and academic fields of study. Some topics are perennial ones, discussed anew each decade in light of the latest archival discoveries or turn in scholarly perspective. Others, however, are less common, representing entire new sub-specialties or a periodic focus on events that otherwise do not receive a great deal of attention.


In looking over the panel sessions for our 2017 conference in Toronto, I noticed that a few interesting sets of notable groupings emerged, often on topics that cross national and temporal boundaries. Our conference program booklets always have an index of panels by discipline, but the sub-categories listed below aren’t big enough to appear in that index (at least, not yet); instead, I’m drawing your attention to them here. I probably won’t be able to attend any of them, but if you do, please share your notes with me!



A post by Dan Vandersommers for the American Historical Association’s AHA Today blog last November outlines an “animal turn” in historical scholarship that has become evident as scholars give greater consideration to nonhuman actors in the past. I definitely see more animal-related topics appearing on the AAS conference program as well, led by a three-part panel on “Power, People, and Animals in Asia” (sessions 57, 98, and 147). Other panels to catch if you’re interested in animal topics are “Animals and Empires: Negotiating Nonhuman Actors and Imperialism in Northeast Asia” (session 156); “Interspecies Intimacy: Evolving Human-animal Socialities in Asia” (session 215); and “Japanese Literature and the Animal in Person” (session 260).



Anniversary years offer us a natural opportunity to pause and assess the long-term effects of important events or social movements. In 2017, China marks one hundred years since the publication of Hu Shi’s proposal for literary reform; session 25 will discuss the resulting New Literature Movement and its relevance a century later. Six decades have elapsed since China’s tragic anti-rightist campaign of 1957, which will be the subject of session 197. In the more recent past, it has now been twenty years since the 1997 Asian financial crisis; session 158 will consider its effects on South Korea’s economy and society.



With the growth of digital resources and increasing ability of scholars to buy research materials online via sites like Ebay, our understanding of “the archive” is constantly changing. Five panels feature scholars who will take a step back from their research to talk about the formal and informal archives in which that research is conducted. These panels will discuss archives of interest to specialists in Southeast Asia (session 61), the People’s Republic of China (session 100), colonial India (session 229), eighteenth-century Korea (session 266), and the Chinese diaspora (session 370). In session 319, “Archives in Between,” panelists will conduct an interactive workshop introducing attendees to the creation and curation of digital archives.



Asia, of course, has many wonderful cuisines to enjoy—one of the perks of specializing in the region. Some scholars, however, are not only concerned with the food on their plates, but also with the place of food in history, literature, and society. In Toronto, single-country panels about food will cover “Banqueting in Chinese Art, Literature, and Religion” (session 67), “Food and Collective Identity in the Korean World” (session 89), and “Eating Japan” (session 10). A comparative panel, “Food Safety and Security in China and Japan” (session 110), will examine this important and timely topic in East Asia, while a panel on “Horticultural Practice and Gastronomical Perspectives in Tea History” (session 165) will put Asia’s most popular drink in a global perspective.