Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies Award

The AAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies represents the highest honor the AAS can bestow.

Originally named the “Award for Distinguished Service,” in 1992 it was renamed the “AAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies.” It is intended to honor outstanding scholarship and service to the field. The award follows the same rotational pattern by area that is used for other nominations. The sitting President (corresponding to the council submitting nominations for the award) traditionally has had the most input in determining the award, which ultimately is approved by the AAS Board.

2019 Honoree: Sylvia Jane Vatuk, Professor Emerita at University of Illinois, Chicago

Sylvia Vatuk studied Anthropology at Cornell, SOAS, and Harvard, and then had a long and prolific career at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Beyond the academic excellence of her work, Sylvia’s most significant contributions come from the subjects she has chosen to explore. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a willingness to take risks and to go beyond conventional disciplinary norms. One of her former students called Sylvia “a visionary in continually re-imagining the potential scope of anthropological field work in India.” Undeterred by binaries of North and South, Hinduism and Islam, folklore and law, Sylvia pioneered the study of urban anthropology, kinship, marriage, and old age in India, as well as the nexus between religion and law—always with an emphasis on understanding the lives of women. A superb ethnographer, she is equally at ease in the archives.

Sylvia is renowned for her generosity as a teacher, a mentor, and a colleague. Dynamic in the classroom, she instilled in beginners a love of anthropology, demanded intellectual rigor in graduate seminars, and untiringly mentored doctoral students in a wide range of fields. Sylvia has been an exceptionally supportive colleague to many academic newcomers, especially women. She is “extremely open to learning from, and collaborating with,” scholars “many years her junior,” explained one of them. Sylvia’s grateful former students and junior colleagues span the globe.

Previous Honorees

Full citations for honorees from 1998 to 2018 can be read here.

2018: David Chandler

2017: James L. Huffman

2016: Lyman Van Slyke

2015: Frederick M. Asher

2014: Charnvit Kasetsiri

2013: David Plath

2012: Charlotte Furth

2011: Sumit Sarkar

2010: Anthony J.S. Reid

2009: Martina Deuchler

2008: Zhang Zhongli

2007: John F. Richards

2006: Taufik Abdullah

2005: Edwin McClellan

2004: Cho-Yun Hsu

2003: Romila Thapar

2002: Jane Richardson Hanks

2001: James B. Palais

2000: Ono Kazuko

1999: Eleanor Zelliot

1998: Benedict Anderson

1997: Eleanor Hadley

1996: K. C. Chang

1995: Joseph W. Elder

1994: Lian Tie Kho

1993: Maruyama Masao

1992: Wing-tsit Chan

1991: Edward C. Dimock, Jr.

1990: Oliver William Wolters

1989: Francis B. Tenny

1988: Eugene Wu

1987: Clifford Geertz, John K. Galbraith, Catherine A. Galbraith

1986: Ronald Philip Dore, Maureen L.P. Patterson

1985: Derk Bodde, J. William Fulbright

1984: Milton B. Singer, Francis X. Sutton


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