“Small Volumes with a Big Message”: Introducing Asia Shorts

January 28, 2021

An updated version of this post has been published and can be read here.

By Bill Tsutsui

Chair, AAS Editorial Board

Like many faculty members these days, I am prone to fault college students (not to mention most of my fellow Americans) for their ever-shorter attention spans. 140 characters is, after all, not long enough for a decent subordinate clause, many cherished phrases of academic jargon, or some lengthy place names in Thailand.

And yet, when I am completely honest with myself, I have to admit that I too become fidgety during 50-minute lectures, have been known to criticize two-hour movies as “just endless,” and tend to shy away from big, thick volumes on bookstore shelves. In our information-saturated lives, there is much to appreciate in the expression of complex ideas in forms that are focused, clear, and concise. Brevity need not mean superficiality, or suggest any lacking of ambition or effort. As the philosopher Blaise Pascal once famously stated, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

In recent years, the academic publishing industry has awakened to the changing demands of readers and to the evolving preferences of scholarly authors, a number of whom have been eager to explore formats somewhere in length between the traditional journal article and the traditional monograph. The AAS was a leader in this trend: the Key Issues in Asian Studies series, edited by Lucien Ellington and launched in 2007, publishes short (100 pages, give or take), accessible volumes designed specifically for use in undergraduate or high school classrooms. With eighteen titles now in print, on subjects ranging from the Mongol Empire to Japanese literature, Key Issues has proven popular with instructors and effective with students.

Based on the success of Key Issues in Asian Studies and the appearance of other “short title” initiatives (such as Palgrave Pivot and Stanford Briefs), the AAS has decided to create a new book series known simply as Asia Shorts. Conceived as concise, readable volumes, written by highly qualified authors and rooted in the latest scholarship, Asia Shorts aims to make rigorous, timely, and accessible work in our field available to broad audiences. Unlike the pedagogically focused Key Issues series, Asia Shorts will be addressed to a wider public, going beyond scholars, teachers, and students to include informed general readers, travelers and tourists, as well as journalists, policymakers, and other professionals. Importantly, Asia Shorts titles are intended to have an edge, a clear point of view, a well-defined (and even provocative) argument that will engage readers with the compelling issues, critical debates, and profound complexities of Asia and Asian Studies. As one might describe Asia Shorts in a tweet: “Small volumes with a big message, strong scholarship for a wide audience.”

The first Asia Shorts title will appear in print early in 2018. Jeffrey Alexander’s Drinking Bomb and Shooting Meth: Alcohol and Drug Use in Postwar Japan is a fascinating and revealing overview of the business, marketing, science, and culture of selling and consuming beer and whiskey, hangover pills and stimulants, in the decades after World War II. Drinking Bomb is an engaging read, filled with insight and informative detail (both meth and crystal meth were first synthesized in Japan?!), and very timely in a historical moment of opioid crisis, marijuana legalization, and a drug war in the Philippines.

A number of additional Asia Shorts are currently in the pipeline, on topics as varied as public art in Pyongyang and Chinese science fiction, environmental politics in South Asia and cross-cultural friendships in 1930s Shanghai, everything from a sweeping reconsideration of our conceptions of public health in Asia to a contrarian perspective on the contemporary international relations of northeast Asia. Our goal is to publish approximately three new Asia Shorts volumes each year and to address issues reflecting the full geographic, disciplinary, thematic, and chronological diversity of Asia and the AAS. As the editor of this new series, my job of reviewing proposals and manuscripts has been a pure joy; I have been able to work with top scholars in the field, learn a great deal about engaging, important subjects, and read full drafts of books in a single, satisfying sitting. I hope other members of the AAS and readers far beyond our association will enjoy the new Asia Shorts volumes and this concise, innovative format as much as I (and the peer reviewers of the manuscripts) have.

In addition to reading Asia Shorts, I would like to encourage you to consider writing a book for the series.

Do you have an exciting project that is more than an article but not quite a monograph?

· Is there a burning academic debate you would like to explore or explain, extinguish or stoke?

· Do you know of a pressing issue where scholarly perspectives could enrich public discussions and enhance public understanding?

· What do you care a lot about and know a lot about and yearn to bring to a broad audience in 30,000-75,000 accessible, jargon-free words?

If you feel inspired by the possibilities, please check out the Asia Shorts Call for Proposals. And don’t hesitate to reach out to me (tsutsui@hendrix.edu) to float ideas, discuss potential topics or authors, or ask any questions that you might have about Asia Shorts or the AAS publications program more generally.