Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Education About Asia with Editor Lucien Ellington

With its forthcoming spring 2020 issue, Education About Asia (EAA), the AAS teaching journal, celebrates its twenty-fifth year of publication. This milestone represents an ideal time to look back on a quarter century of EAA. AAS Publications Manager Jon Wilson invited EAA Editor Lucien Ellington to recall how the journal began and share his thoughts about the future.

If you’re involved in teaching about Asia or simply interested in learning more about Asia and its history and culture, please support our work by subscribing to the print edition, donating to the AAS Fund for Outreach and Education, and by browsing the new and improved EAA online archives.

Readers interested in contacting Lucien may write him at Lucien-ellington@utc.edu.

Jon Wilson: Lucien, how did the idea for EAA first come about, how was AAS chosen as publisher, and how did you become editor?

Lucien Ellington: The genesis for part of what eventually became EAA began with the efforts of Franklin Buchanan who, along with Elgin Heinz, were two of the first U.S. pioneers in improving K-12 teacher and student knowledge of Asia. In 1963 Buchanan, a former social studies teacher, began editing and publishing a small journal on Asia for teachers at Ohio State University, where he was faculty member, which was eventually titled Focus on Asian Studies. In 1981 the Asia Society assumed responsibility for Focus on Asian Studies, which was published for several years before being discontinued. By the early 1980s, AAS members interested in improved teacher and student knowledge about Asia formed the Committee on Teaching About Asia (CTA) which became instrumental in lobbying the AAS leadership to devote increased time and resources to encouraging excellence in teaching.

Education About Asia, unlike Focus on Asian Studies, was conceptualized early on as intended not only for school teachers, but also for undergraduate instructors and students in general education courses. Two Columbia University professors, Theodore de Bary and Ainslie Embree, former AAS Presidents and nationally prominent in undergraduate educational efforts, were also advocates of increased AAS attention toward teaching. Carol Gluck of Columbia, who became AAS president shortly after the creation of the journal, strongly supported expansion of the organization’s teaching mission for both schools and undergraduate institutions. All three would go on to publish in EAA, with Professor Embree also serving on the journal’s editorial advisory board for over fifteen years.

Due to perseverance and pressure on the AAS leadership by CTA stalwarts, as well as academics who believed in the vital importance of AAS not only retaining its well-deserved reputation as the world’s premier scholarly Asia-related organization, but also expanding the pedagogical mission of the organization, the AAS Board approved the creation of an ad hoc committee to recommend steps the organization might take to create a more robust focus upon teaching. The committee met in spring 1993 at the AAS annual conference and recommended the creation of a teaching journal and an annual curriculum materials prize. I was named to that committee in part because of some modest regional and national success in Japan-related educational programs and publications for teachers, but perhaps the most significant reason I was invited to be its founding editor was the fact I was the CTA Newsletter editor at the time and agreed to take on the project!

Three ad hoc committee members, Roberta (Robin) Martin (Columbia University), Peter Frost (Williams College), and I traveled to Ann Arbor in fall 1993 to meet with the AAS Secretary-Treasurer, Peter Gosling, to discuss the development of a journal prototype that would be presented to the AAS Board of Directors in spring 1994. I distinctly remember the four of us reached consensus on the journal’s title over lunch in Ann Arbor. Peter Frost and I took major responsibility for developing a mock-up, which was sent to the board in 1994. After further negotiations with the board about the nature of and direction of the journal, thanks primarily to Peter and Robin’s adroitness at recognizing the finer points of getting board approval, the board granted permission for funding for one year (1995) for the development and publication of our first issue early in 1996. Robin Martin recruited prominent AAS members interested in teaching as contributors for our first issue while Peter and I worked together to recruit an editorial board and solicit a wide array of manuscript proposals from teachers and academics. The first issue of EAA was published in spring 1996. For two years the issue appeared twice yearly and since 1998 we’ve published three issues annually.

Wilson: You have overseen a journal for teachers for twenty-five years. Over that period of time, what has EAA taught you?

Ellington: Incredible gratitude to the literally thousands of contributors to the journal and to our editorial boards, some of whom I have known for over twenty-five years and are still as reliable as they have been from the beginning. At the risk of hurting other’s feelings, Peter Frost and Robin Martin deserve special mention because they were so instrumental in the start-up process. I thank Peter for his numerous excellent contributions to the journal as well as for acting as a reliable sounding board in the tough times that occur in any project of our longevity. Robin is one of the most creative and determined people I’ve ever met and has been incredibly helpful in helping and advising me concerning difficult EAA-related matters. She consistently models an essential leadership quality: the ability to be proactive. Her constructive networking efforts on behalf of EAA have been effective and much appreciated. I am also grateful to the entire AAS staff throughout the years and especially to EAA art director Willa Davis-Held, and the late AAS Publications Manager, Ann Beard, who was a strong supporter of the journal and taught me a great deal about publishing. I am also grateful to my university, which realized the value of this educational endeavor early and made good on its obligations as a supporting institution throughout the years.

Wilson: Regarding EAA, what have been your biggest surprises and your biggest coups?

Ellington: One never-ending positive surprise is the pleasure derived from meeting and working with contributors as well as editorial board members, who constantly satiate my desire to learn more about Asia and its place in the world, as well as attempting to help others learn more about Asia. Another pleasant surprise in my opinion is that AAS is much more open to the importance of pedagogy than it was twenty-five years ago, as evidenced by the existence of three publications that, although different in scope and level, have clear pedagogical functions: EAA, Key Issues in Asia Studies, and Asia Shorts.

A personal coup is that EAA in my opinion, is substantially different than most education journals. Too often the latter offer pedagogical techniques but don’t help teachers learn more content and effective pedagogy, inadvertently violating the tried but true maxim, “you can’t teach what you don’t know.” Marrying what to teach and how to teach is our consistent approach, as is finding outstanding teachers and teaching scholars with the audacity to write like journalists.

Wilson: What are your hopes and goals for EAA going forward?

Ellington: The AAS has a strong commitment to pedagogy, as evidenced by its ongoing commitment to EAA along with its popular Key Issues in Asian Studies book series. In fall 2013, AAS President Thongchai Winichakul, on behalf of the board, informed then Executive Director Michael Paschal that it so appreciated EAA that the print version should be continued, and authorized AAS to create online EAA archives which would be available at no charge to educators, academics, and students. In 2014 the first online archives were completed and released. The new EAA website and online archives, while relying on the original archives as a foundation, are a vast improvement and provide an outstanding resource for teachers. I hope that through both the website and the print journal we can reach new audiences and provide more useful pedagogical options for teachers, professors, and their students. Executive Director Hilary Finchum-Sung, the current board of directors and officers, energetic AAS staffers and graduate interns, as well as Jeff Melnik our managing editor and the AAS Editorial Board, deserve thanks for their support of EAA and for this new digital venture. Special thanks go to you, Jenna Yoshikawa, and Maura Cunningham for work in publicizing the print journal and the website.

My last hope is that AAS members who view EAA as an exclusively K-12 journal spend a little more time browsing the new and improved online archives. I am a proud former high school history and economics teacher and work with teachers and aspiring teachers on a regular basis, but the journal is applicable to the needs of more AAS members than have been previously imagined. Please take some time to learn more about EAA, and browse our vast archives of over 1,500 articles, particularly if you teach general education and introductory Asia survey courses.

Wilson: Do you have any favorite articles from over the years you wish to share with us?

Ellington: Last summer, I went through the table of contents of every print issue and selected forty-six from over 1,500 articles for an “Editor’s Choices” column. I offer these personal choices and encourage readers who would like a better sense of the journal to browse this feature using the “Articles by Volume” option. You are free to write me asking for a rationale of my selections—or even better yet, especially if you have prior experience with EAA, I invite you to compile your own list of favorites and send it to me as a useful resource for possible inclusion on the EAA website and publication in our forthcoming EAA Digest e-mail blasts.

Wilson: Please tell us a little about yourself—how do you spend your time when not working as editor of EAA?

Ellington: My wife Charlotte and I live in Flintstone, GA. Running, reading, music, and travel are my lifetime hobbies. I am interested in educational reform and serve as a founding board member of a liberal arts charter school for inner-city children. We are both active members of our church. Each summer for the previous eighteen years we’ve moved to the South Shore of Lake Superior (Washburn, WI) for a working vacation up north.

Wilson: Thank you, Lucien, and congratulations on 25 years at the helm!

Ellington: Jon, thanks for the opportunity for the interview.

The AAS Secretariat will be closed on Monday, May 27 in observance of Memorial Day