The Environments of East Asia: All About This New Open-Access Book Series

The Henry Luce Foundation has recently awarded Professors Albert L. Park (Claremont McKenna College) and Ann Sherif (Oberlin College) a $240,000 grant to establish an open-access book series, The Environments of East Asia, with Cornell University Press. This award builds on a previous Luce grant that funded EnviroLab Asia, an initiative Park participated in at the Claremont Colleges (read more about EnviroLab Asia in this 2017 #AsiaNow post) and the LIASE initiative at Oberlin College. Park and Sherif will serve as co-editors of The Environments of East Asia, which will publish works blending environmental studies with East Asian studies. They plan to release ten titles in the series, beginning with an edited volume, Forces of Nature: New Perspectives on Korean Environments, in fall 2022.

Learn more about The Environments of East Asia in this Q&A with Albert L. Park and Ann Sherif.

Maura Elizabeth Cunningham: Congratulations on both this important new book series and the Luce grant to support it! Can you share the background story of how The Environments of East Asia came about and how you connected with Cornell University Press?

Albert L. Park & Ann Sherif: Thanks for the interview. We appreciate you reaching out to us. We have been overseeing environmental studies initiatives on Asia at our campuses that have been funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, and we have been seeing a surge in studies on environmental issues in East Asia, especially at the graduate level. These studies have extensively covered human/non-human relations, the systems and beliefs that have mediated those relations, and other environmental issues in East Asia from the past to the present and from a variety of disciplinary angles. We believed there should be a new space of publication dedicated to supporting and featuring these stimulating works. It should be a comprehensive space curated specifically to bring these works into a dialogue with the larger conversations on environmental issues and to help deepen and direct these conversations. In our minds, creating a new book series would be a vehicle for not only widening Asian Studies, but also forging new theoretical and methodological grounds on how to approach and study ecology, the environment, and other themes and concepts.

We approached Cornell University Press (CUP) about developing a new series. That was after Emily Andrew, a Senior Editor at Cornell University Press, reached out to Albert to talk about his new manuscript on the origins of environmentalism in modern Korea. Emily immediately saw the potential and scholarly value in a series like this and worked with us to get it off the ground. Everyone at CUP supported this project because of its prospects of shaping so many different fields. It made sense to locate this new series in CUP because of its extensive record of publishing outstanding books on Asia and different areas of the environment. Above all, we wanted to work with CUP because it has a thorough infrastructure for editing, producing, and promoting high-quality books.

MEC: Both environmental studies and Asian studies are already interdisciplinary fields. How do you anticipate creating a new line of multidisciplinary books? What are some of the benefits and challenges you anticipate in doing so?

Park & Sherif: We noticed that most existing Environmental book series tend to publish lists heavy on only one of the many disciplines represented in Environmental Studies. For example, there are a number of series about environmental history. In contrast, this series will expand beyond a single discipline in order to forge a space where theories and analyses from the humanities and social sciences and concepts and methodologies from the sciences can be deployed together to identify and interpret diverse processes and intersections. It will be a space to produce layered and varied perspectives that would not otherwise be possible from a single disciplinary angle.

The challenge of creating this multidisciplinary series is to maintain balance in both disciplinary coverage and geographical focus. Specifically, because we plan to include books with a scientific perspective on environmental issues in East Asia, we need to make sure that the series ties together the books well to tell clear, nuanced stories about the environment. This is so readers can gain better understandings of the layered complexities and relationships in the environment, especially the intersections between humans and non-humans and the systems of mediation that structure these relationships. The diverse background and expertise of the editorial team, especially the Editorial Board, which is made up of scholars from different disciplines and with different geographical focuses, ensures that this series will maintain strong balance in its coverage and approaches and produce a diverse array of studies that will meet the interests of readers from a variety of fields.

MEC: Why did you decide to make The Environments of East Asia an open-access project? What will this look like for authors and readers?

Park & Sherif: Simply put, we wanted to help this push to democratize and expand readership. Open-access gives everyone the opportunity to read books in our series without any constraints, especially in Asia and other parts of the world where the price of books by university presses are quite high. Authors in the series will also have more people reading their books in light of the fact that studies have shown that open access books have high rate of downloads globally. This way of publishing increases opportunities for authors to have their works shared, discussed, and used widely. Fortunately, our drive to make this series open access aligned well with the mission of the Henry Luce Foundation, which has been pivotal in boosting Asian Studies under the direction of Helena Kolenda, the Program Director for Asia. There would have been no way to make this series open-access without her and the foundation’s support because there are still high publication costs to sustain this series.

This series will be like any other book series in that every book will undergo a rigorous peer-review process and will also come out in hardcover and paperback editions that can be purchased. Yet, unlike other book series, this series not only provides valuable support to authors, such as resources for manuscript review sessions, editorial costs, and image-making, it also lets readers freely access any of the books in this series.

MEC: The first title in the series, Forces of Nature, is already in the works. What can you tell us about this volume?

Park & Sherif: Edited by Albert L. Park, David Fedman, and Eleana Kim, Forces of Nature is a collection of essays from different disciplines on environmental issues in the Korean peninsula, including geochemistry, history, media studies, food security, anthropology, and art history.

The essays came from a conference on the environment in Korea that was organized by EnviroLab Asia at the Claremont Colleges and the University of California, Irvine. We think that this is an appropriate book to launch the series because of its multidisciplinary approach to studying the environment and ecology in premodern, modern, and contemporary Korea. There are very few books on environmental issues in Korea, and we expect this book to help shape the conversation on larger themes and topics being discussed in a number of fields such as Korean, Asian, and Environmental Studies.

MEC: Finally, if a reader of this Q&A is interested in submitting a proposal to The Environments of East Asia, what should they know? How can they get in touch with you to discuss possible projects?

Park & Sherif: Just like any other series, prospective authors can draw up a book proposal and send it to CUP and us for review. We will carefully review and discuss the next steps with the authors. Prospective authors are always welcome to contact us if they have any questions about the series (, We expect to be at major conferences to talk with anyone, so we are happy to meet in person too.

MEC: Thank you, Albert and Ann, for your time—and congratulations again! I look forward to hearing more about The Environments of East Asia in the future.