Small Volumes with a Big Message: Strong Scholarship for a Wide Audience

By Bill Tsutsui, Asia Shorts series editor and Jon Wilson, AAS Publications Manager

In our information-saturated lives, there is much to appreciate in the expression of important, timely, and complex ideas in forms that are focused, clear, and concise. Brevity need not signify superficiality nor suggest any lack 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 a journal article and a monograph.

The AAS has been a leader in this trend with its Key Issues in Asian Studies series, publishing short, accessible volumes designed for use in undergraduate or high school classrooms. With more than twenty titles now in print—on subjects ranging from the histories of China, India, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam, to Confucius, the Mongol Empire and to Chinese and Japanese literature—Key Issues has proven extremely popular with instructors and effective with students.

To leverage the success of the Key Issues series, in 2018 the AAS—in partnership with our distributor, Columbia University Press—launched another book series: ASIA SHORTS.

Asia Shorts are concise, readable books, written by highly qualified authors—scholars, teachers, journalists, and policymakers—that engage broad audiences with up-to-date scholarship on important, timely topics in Asian Studies. Asia Shorts bring fresh insights and forceful arguments, anchored in a strong base of evidence and current research, to specialist and non-specialist readers alike, offering nuanced and accessible analyses of interest to a broad readership.

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 volume in the series—Jeffrey Alexander’s Drinking Bomb and Shooting Meth: Alcohol and Drug Use in Postwar Japan—was the winner of the 2019 ICAS Book Prize for “Most Accessible and Captivating Work for the Non-Specialist Reader.” This was followed by John Lie’s The Dream of East Asia: The Rise of China, Nationalism, Popular Memory, and Regional Dynamics in Northeast Asia and Josh Fogel’s A Friend in Deed: Lu Xun, Uchiyama Kanzo, and the Intellectual World of Shanghai on the Eve of War.

To date, AAS has published eight volumes in the series, with more in the pipeline on topics as varied as Chinese science fiction, depictions of Japan on American TV, cinema in Pakistan, and environmental politics in South Asia.

In 2020, we published five Asia Shorts volumes, including Anna Ahlers, Mette Halskov Hansen, and Rune Svarverud’s The Great Smog of China, a sweeping (and sobering) survey of air pollution in Chinese history, and Lisa Björkman’s Waiting Town, a gripping study of life in the slums of Mumbai. We published three volumes—one single-authored volume and two edited volumes—which, given their subject matter, necessitated a fast turnaround from submission to publication:

  • Making Hong Kong China: The Rollback of Human Rights and the Rule of Law, by Michael C. Davis, analyzes the National Security Law introduced by the Chinese government at the end of June 2020, aimed at ending protests by Hong Kong citizens demanding the autonomy, rule of law and basic freedoms they were once promised.
  • The Pandemic: Perspectives on Asia, edited by Vinayak Chaturvedi, includes interpretations by leading scholars in anthropology, food studies, history, media studies, political science, and visual studies, who examine the political, social, economic, and cultural impact of COVID-19 in China, India, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and beyond.
  • Teaching About Asia in a Time of Pandemic, edited by David Kenley, presents many lessons learned by educators during the COVID-19 outbreak. The volume consists of two sections. Section one includes chapters discussing how to teach Asian history, politics, culture, and society using examples and case studies emerging from the pandemic. Section two focuses on the pedagogical tools and methods that teachers can employ to teach Asian topics beyond the traditional face-to-face classroom. Both sections are designed for undergraduate instructors as well as high school teachers using prose that is easily accessible for non-specialists.

All Asia Shorts volumes are available in print and e-book formats from our distribution partner, Columbia University Press. The two pandemic-related volumes—with thanks to generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation—are also available as open access on the AAS website.

As Asia Shorts editor and AAS Publications Manager, our job of shepherding projects from first proposal through published book has been a pure joy. We 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. We hope other members of the AAS and readers far beyond our association will enjoy the Asia Shorts volumes and this concise, innovative format as much as the two of us (and the peer reviewers of the manuscripts) have.

In addition to reading Asia Shorts, we 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 35,000-75,000 accessible, jargon-free words?

If you feel inspired by the possibilities, please visit the Asia Shorts section of the AAS website, and please do not hesitate to reach out to us — tsutsui@hendrix.edu and jwilson@asianstudies.org — to float ideas, discuss potential topics or authors, or ask any questions that you might have about Asia Shorts or the AAS publications program in general.