Mark Your Calendars: AAS 2018 Program Highlights

Sculpture by Cambodian artist Svay Sareth; photo courtesy of the artist.

With the deadline for pre-registration for the annual AAS conference coming up on February 26, I would like to use this presidential column to share some information about art exhibits, five special #AsiaNow panels, and the conference as a whole.

Gracing the atrium of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel will be a special sculptural installation by Cambodian artist Svay Sareth, who was the 2016 recipient of the Overall Best Emerging Artist and Best Emerging Sculptor at the prestigious Prudential Eye Awards in Singapore. Illustrating the theme of “When East Meets West,” the artist plans to create a Khmer version of Donald Trump clad in camouflage fabric looking at himself in a bamboo mirror. Sareth will fabricate and sew all the pieces in his workshop in Cambodia and assemble them before our eyes in the atrium.

This artwork ties in with a special #AsiaNow panel, entitled “Asian Arts and Resistance: Defiant Subjects and their Disobedient Objects.” All across Asia artists, writers, musicians, dramatists, and architects have used their expressive capacities to critique the status quo, political regimes, and social establishments. At the same time, states and other powerful patrons regularly use and support expressive forms to celebrate and legitimate their own authority. This panel brings together artists from Hong Kong, Myanmar, Cambodia and India, who—through urban space installations, photographs, sculptures and films—have created unique discursive and imaginative spaces where art collapses into political discourses.

Minzayar Oo, an award-winning journalist, will exhibit a selection of his most captivating pictures. Minzayar is known for highlighting human rights and environmental issues in Myanmar. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Guardian, and National Geographic. Minzayar’s exhibit bridges with a second #AsiaNow panel addressing “The Rohingya Question.” Since August 25, 2017, more than half a million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape what many international leaders are calling ethnic cleansing or genocide. This panel will bring together a group of experts with backgrounds in the fields of history, anthropology, law, and journalism to critically discuss this humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.

A third #AsiaNow panel, entitled “New Kinds of Censorship Pressures,” responds to an issue that has been of great concern to the AAS membership, namely the recent moves to limit the circulation of scholarly work on the Chinese mainland. China Quarterly was most directly affected, with several other journals—including our own Journal of Asian Studies (JAS)–coming under threat. While we are pleased to report that Cambridge University Press is affirming its commitment to academic freedom, censorship affects publications in other parts of Asia as well. The participants on this panel will include the editors of the JAS and China Quarterly, as well as journalists and scholars who have been on the frontlines of censorship and free speech struggles in places other than the PRC, including Thailand and Cambodia.

Our fourth #AsiaNow panel explores “What the West Needs to Hear from Asia.” In recent decades, increasing numbers of Asian students have been studying their own countries in universities in the West. However, while Western methods and theories continue to dominate scholarly exercise and discourse, there is as yet little evidence that the direction of learning can reverse its way. This roundtable seeks to highlight some of these issues with the participation of people from academia and the think-tank community.

Finally, a fifth roundtable is a continuation of last year’s initiative to explore alternative career paths for Asianists and is entitled “Beyond the Academy: Public Policy Careers for Asianists.” Although Asia continues to attract a large number of students every year, the pursuit of an academic career in the field of Asian studies is becoming more challenging as the demand for teaching jobs far exceeds the number of tenure-track positions available. As a result, an increasing number of students are considering career options outside academia. This roundtable brings together five professionals in the field of public policy in Washington, D.C. to provide students and recent graduates with practical advice, discussing how their academic training prepared them for their career in the U.S. Department of State, think tanks, and non-for-profit sector. Drawing on their personal experience, the panelists will discuss which skills they find are best suited for non-academic jobs, how to best approach a career outside the academy, and how to capitalize on the training, skills, and knowledge gained in the course of post-graduate studies.

The art installation, photo exhibit, and these five special panels are only a small part of what promises to be an embarrassment of riches at this year’s AAS conference. The 2018 conference will feature 443 sessions, a keynote speech and my presidential address, as well as a huge and not-to-be missed book exhibition. My presidential panel will explore the topic “Expanding Language Instruction on Your Campus: New Possibilities through Distance,” about which I write more in my next column.

It is not too late to register. With the pre-registration deadline approaching, students should be aware that student membership only costs $35 per year. In addition to receiving JAS, student members qualify for discounted conference registration fees; student members are also eligible to apply for AAS grants and workshops.

I look forward to seeing everyone in Washington, D.C. at what is shaping up to be another dynamic conference. With over 3,300 participants already registered, it should be easy to run into old friends and meet new colleagues.

Celebrating Regional Conferences

Political events across the globe, not the least of which include the recent efforts by the Chinese government to censor scholarship, remind all of us of the important role academic organizations such as the Association for Asian Studies can play. As soon as AAS learned of the efforts to block articles in the Journal of Asian Studies, we expressed our opposition on behalf of our members and defended the importance of academic freedom. Keeping AAS strong involves varied initiatives, each providing opportunities for membership participation in actions ranging from writing short blogs for #Asia Now to organizing panels for the annual conference

In this column I would like to highlight how participation in our regional conferences helps keep AAS strong. Nine regional conferences are affiliated with AAS; one is held annually in Japan and the remaining eight in locations across the U.S. AAS helps support these conferences and their affiliated outreach workshops for K-12 teachers. Each regional conference has a representative on the AAS Council of Conferences (CoC); the CoC meets each year at the annual AAS meeting. AAS presidents—current, past or incoming—attend the regional conferences and give a keynote.  

You do not have to be a member of AAS to participate in the regional conferences. Furthermore, you do not even have to live in the region which is hosting a given conference (although certain conferences have some regional restrictions, e.g. for students to be eligible for certain prizes they must attend a university located in the region). International scholars are also welcome to submit papers or simply attend.

Regional conferences are dedicated to building supportive communities of Asianists. Attending them is a great way for Asia scholars to find out who else is working at nearby institutions and to build networks that can be useful in so many ways, be it to meet colleagues with whom to organize future panels, consult with current or future research ideas, etc. I know many AAS members often feel frustration when their panels are not accepted for the large annual meeting. Let me assure you that AAS presidents, including myself, have had their panels rejected (although I must confess that the annual AAS meetings are often more enjoyable when one can actually have time to wander through the book exhibits, attend panels, and meet colleagues without the looming pressure of having to worry about finishing one’s own paper!). Regional conferences provide yet another important venue for scholars to present their work and are convivial venues for students and junior scholars to actually meet and talk with senior scholars, including AAS presidents, in a much more relaxed atmosphere. Some even have their own publications. 

Regional conferences are particularly welcoming venues for students, many offering prizes for outstanding undergraduate and graduate student papers, so I would encourage all faculty and students to learn about their regional conference prizes. AAS dedicates a panel at the annual meeting to the CoC for selected prizewinners to present their papers, and prizewinners also receive a free one-year membership in AAS. Encouraging student presentations is a great way for these students to build their resumes and for the field of Asian studies to support the next generation of Asian scholars. 

Consequently, I would like to encourage everyone to visit the AAS website for more information about the regional conferences. For your convenience, I list below each of the nine regional conferences, providing a little background and their upcoming conference schedules. If you have missed deadlines for paper submission, you can still attend this year and plan ahead for next year! With a little advance planning, these regional conferences provide a great way to visit friends and family across the country while also building your academic networks.

Brief Overview of Regional Conferences: 

Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ) is held in Japan, but emphasizes interdisciplinary scholarly exchanges on Asia more broadly. They offer student prizes. The call for papers (in English-language format) will close October 15, 2017 for their next conference, which will be held at International Christian University in Tokyo from June 30-July 1, 2018.

Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast (ASPAC) members come from the West Coast of the United States of America, Hawaii, and Guam, as well as from Canada, Mexico, and Asia. ASPAC normally holds its annual conference in June and offers student paper prizes. Their next conference will be held June 8-10, 2018 at Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, so watch for their call for papers.

Mid-Atlantic Region Association for Asian Studies (MAR/AAS) serves the mid-Atlantic region from New York City down to Washington, D.C., including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It has some travel assistance for graduate students and international scholars (up to $100) and has a graduate student prize competition, as well as its own publications. This year’s conference is being held in Philadelphia October 6-8.

Midwestern Conference on Asian Affairs (MCAA) is based in the Midwest region. MCAA has as many as 5-6 prizes for graduate and undergraduate papers and also publishes a peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Studies on Asia. This year’s conference is at the University of Notre Dame September 15-17, 2017, so if you’re not attending that this weekend, stay tuned for announcements about next year’s conference.

New York Conference on Asian Studies (NYCAS) draws its membership primarily from New York State, but welcomes participation from anywhere in the world. The annual conference, which often includes cultural performances, is held on a different New York campus each year in the fall. NYCAS awards annual student prizes. The 2017 conference will be hosted by Hobart and William Smith Colleges September 22-23, so watch out for the call for papers, venue, and dates for next year.

Southwest Conference on Asian Studies (SWCAS) is based in the southwestern region. This year’s annual meeting will take place on November 17-18, hosted by Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

The Western Conference of the Association for Asian Studies (WCAAS) was founded in Salt Lake City and bases itself in the Intermountain West. This year’s conference is being held in conjunction with SWCAS in Dallas.

The Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies (SEC/AAS) will hold its next conference at the University of South Carolina in January 2018; paper and panel proposals are due by October 31, 2017.

New England Association for Asian Studies (NEAAS) does not yet have its next conference scheduled, but its members can participate in the other regional conferences.

The Past, Present, and Future of AAS-in-ASIA

Because our AAS-in-ASIA conferences are so new, I would like to use my first presidential column to highlight their past, present, and future. The brainchild of my presidential predecessors, AAS-in-ASIA began in 2014 as an experiment. The vision was for AAS to work with a host institution in Asia to facilitate participation amongst AAS members and Asian scholars across Asia. By bringing Asian specialists from abroad together with scholars in Asia—who were not necessarily members of AAS and perhaps not able to attend the annual conferences held in North America—the conference originators hoped to spark new and fruitful areas of collaboration. The original idea was that AAS-in-ASIA would be smaller-sized conferences providing the opportunity to participate on panel sessions and network with colleagues in a more intimate setting. The conference has been extraordinarily successful and has been mushrooming in size. I invite everyone to consider participating in these conferences and to submit your suggestions for possible new venues in Asia in the future.

The Past

The first AAS-in-ASIA conference was hosted by National University of Singapore in 2014. The organizers expected the conference to be small—perhaps some 50 panels and maybe 200 or so participants. They were stunned when over 328 panel proposals were submitted! The program committee had to make very difficult decisions given limited conference space. Even though the organizers decided to accept 80 panels, the rejection rate was a surreal 75%. Nevertheless, the Singapore conference attracted 548 participants from 30 countries.

The conference has grown rapidly in the two succeeding years. The second AAS-in-ASIA was held in Taipei, hosted by Academia Sinica in 2015. That year there were 120 panels and a total of 617 people from 32 countries in attendance. The third conference, in 2016, was hosted by Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. By then the conference had grown to 217 panels and was attended by 1,283 participants from 40 countries.

The Immediate Present

The 2017 conference, with a theme of “Asia in Motion: Beyond Borders and Boundaries,” will be held at Korea University in Seoul, June 24-27. Although the final figures are not available, there are 175 panels and already 841 participants have registered. In addition to the keynote by Professor Wen-hsin Yeh, four special roundtables, panels, and book exhibits, our Seoul hosts, working with Korea Tourism Organization, have also arranged a final day of interesting tour options. The deadline for submitting papers has long passed, but registration to attend the conference is still possible. For further information, please go to the conference website.

The 2018 AAS-in-ASIA conference will be in New Delhi, India in July 2018, hosted by Ashoka University. Planning is well underway. The call for proposals will open over the summer and the deadline for panel proposal submission will be October 31. The conference theme is “Asia in Motion: Reimagining Geographies & Genealogies.” Panels are invited which address the spatial, geographic, climatic, linguistic, environmental, cultural, literary, historical, religious, folk, and archaeological dimensions of conference theme. Organizers are also issuing a special invitation to submit panels on monsoons, highlighting their theme of the problem of understanding Asia’s geographical genealogies. Generally speaking, panels composed with a consideration of gender, academic rank, national origin, and/or disciplinary approach will be favored over narrowly constructed panels. Even beyond the theme of the conference, panels addressing topics of broad relevance will also be considered.

The Future

Recognizing that AAS-in-ASIA is succeeding beyond its creators’ wildest dreams is bringing new challenges, foremost of which is finding suitable venues for such a large conference (to say nothing of debates about ideal conference size, fee structures, frequency, relative difficulty of obtaining visas, and the like). We envision rotating the sites of AAS-in-ASIA conferences among the four regions into which AAS itself is divided, namely China and Inner Asia, Northeast Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Thus we hope to find a venue in Southeast Asia for the 2019 conference; in Inner Asia and China for 2020; in Northeast Asia for 2021, and in South Asia for 2022 (recognizing this rotation may shift according to the convenience of a given host institution).

Because the conference has rapidly grown to a significant size, finding host institutions is becoming a challenge. Although AAS does provide financial and logistical support, a significant amount of work involved in organizing this conference falls to the host institution. In some cases, a given country’s academic institutions or conference venues are too small or otherwise insufficiently developed to handle a conference of the size that AAS-in-ASIA has already become. We also face the issue of political sensitivity entailed in the complex histories of individual countries and regional interactions. Each country has topics, albeit to varying degrees, which are considered tabooed. The governments of many countries are pursuing policies which scholars wish to critique, leading to calls for boycotts or other forms of voicing scholarly objections.

However, given the evident vibrancy of the AAS-in-ASIA conferences to date, it is clear these challenges are worth overcoming. I would like to use this presidential column to thank the scholars and host institutions who have made the first four years of the AAS-in-ASIA experiment such as success. I would particularly like to thank Prasenjit Duara and the Asia Research Institute of National University of Singapore; Fan-Sen Wang, Hu Siao-chen, and Academia Sinica; Keiko Ikeda and Doshisha University; Sungtaek Cho and his staff at the Research Institute for Korean Studies at Korea University; and Aparna Vaidik, Ali Imran, and Vineet Gupta at Ashoka University for all their work and that of their colleagues in coordinating the AAS-in-ASIA conferences organized thus far.

Looking to the future, I would also like to use this presidential column to invite scholars at Asian institutions to consider hosting a conference in upcoming years. Your participation is vital to ensuring that we will be able to continue to rotate the conference in countries and institutions across Asia. Hosting AAS-in-ASIA is an opportunity to showcase Asian academic institutions and develop ever-stronger networks across Asia and across the globe. In its current format, AAS-in-ASIA conferences need venues that can handle 100-200 panel sessions (held over the course of 2-3 days), with rooms capable of holding audiences of 20-50 people each. In addition, conferences would ideally be located in areas with convenient and reasonably priced hotels for upwards of some 700 participants. If you are interested and would like to learn more about just how much work is entailed, please contact me at and/or Krisna Uk, AAS Senior Advisor to the Board of Directors: Development and Strategic Initiatives, at

I hope to see many of you in Seoul in June or at future AAS-in-ASIA conferences across Asia!