Martin Amster and Morris Rossabi
This is our tenth interview with Franklin R. Buchanan Prize winners. The Association for Asian Studies awards the prize annually for the development of outstanding curriculum materials on Asia. The 2006 prize was awarded for the teaching guide From Silk to Oil: Cross-Cultural Connections Along the Silk Road (funded by the US Department of Education and produced by the China Institute in America, 2005). Project directors included Morris Rossabi, Nancy Jervis, and Marleen Kassel. Others crucial to the development of the project included Martin Amster, editor, Ronald G. Knapp, managing editor, and Lier Chen, editorial assistant. The following is an interview with City University of New York History Professor Morris Rossabi, and China Institute Program Coordinator Martin Amster.
Lucien: Marty and Morris, congratulations to both of you as well as the many others who worked on this fabulous curriculum guide. Marty, since you are affiliated with the organization that published From Silk to Oil, please briefly describe the China Institute for readers who may not be aware of it.
Martin Amster: China Institute was founded eighty years ago by a group of Chinese and American educators, including Hu Shih, a central figure in China’s May Fourth Movement, and the philosopher John Dewey. We’re a non-profit educational institution promoting understanding and appreciation of Chinese history and culture, past and present. We’re also the oldest bicultural organization in America focusing exclusively on China.
We offer all sorts of activities for adults and kids, including lectures, exhibitions in our gallery, and classes in language, literature, painting, calligraphy, and taiji.
Our corporate affairs program keeps the business and financial communities abreast of the latest developments in China’s economy.
In 2006 we became home to one of the first Confucius Institutes in the US. Established in conjunction with China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), this training program is designed to meet the increasing demand for qualified Chinese language teachers.
I’m part of China Institute’s Teach China program. Teach China works with K–12 educators. We give professional development courses, workshops, and summer institutes, and we research and formulate curriculum.
From Silk to Oil is one result of our curriculum work. It was about four years in the making—from the planning stages in 2001 to publication in spring 2005. Many initial activities were funded by the Freeman Foundation, though it was ultimately brought to fruition through a grant from the US Department of Education.
“A good beginning and a good ending” (shan shi shan zhong) is a Chinese proverb that very much applies to From Silk to Oil. Morris Rossabi and Marleen Kassel, its first project director, conceived and planned the book. Our 2001 Silk Road study tour gave us a core of educators with the skills and knowledge necessary to create most of the twenty-three units. Lier Chen shepherded the manuscript through multiple versions and classroom field testing. A terrific group of scholar/advisors patiently responded to all our questions. Nancy Jervis, China Institute’s vice president, oversaw the final stages of the project. Managing editor Ron Knapp worked night and day to see From Silk to Oil through the final months of production. As I said, “shan shi shan zhong.”