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H-ASIA August 25, 1995 Further comment on India's economic boom and South Asian studies-a linkage? *************************************************************************** From: email@example.com (James Hoover) In response to the discussion of South Asian studies enjoying the same prosperity as, say East Asian or Eastern European studies, I would like to offer a few observations based on my graduate school experiences with this field so far. First of all, I think the major funding difficulties faced by South Asian Studies departments are not so much the result of the perceived uselessness of language studies as they are a general confusion within the field about the purpose of South Asian Studies departments. These departments would cease to function without the support of the Federal Area Studies program, and the Federal definition of an area studies program calls for something more than a language and literature department. The definition is quite clear, and multiple copies of it are available in the office of every South Asian Studies department in the country: area studies programs are meant to provide interdisciplinary support networks for academics working in a variety of other disciplines. They are not meant to be, primarily, a discipline as such, or to function like the local French or German Department. Certainly instruction in South Asian languages lies at the center of any good South Asian department, but there are major problems with language instruction at these institutions, not least of which is the nearly universal lack of materials to assist students with language learning. No useful textbooks, no dictionaries, none of the materials or facilities which are part and parcel of language instruction in other types of departments, although vast amounts of money, time, and effort have been expended by the Government and other institutions in order to develop these resources. Instead of concentrating upon the development of sound, basic language skills, most first year South Asian language courses concentrate almost entirely on verbal skills more suitable for tourists than for researchers. They have become dominated by the lucrative "language year abroad" programs for undergraduates, which must necessarily turn into "crash courses". There are notable exceptions to this rule, but many students really learn their languages by traveling to South Asia, not by studying in the United States. The acquisition of language skills for research purposes is further hampered by the absence of instruction in the major research languages of South Asia. Every department teaches Hindi, which is probably a good thing, but modern Hindi is not a language, for instance, that is very useful to historians. Persian, one of the most useful languages, is rarely available--together with Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and other South Asian languages with ancient textual traditions. Graduate students are expected to criss-cross the continent trying to "pick up" these languages on their own, but it is clear that professors and others responsible for designing curriculum have no conception of the costs involved in such a luxurious enterprise, or how impractical it is for the average graduate student to have such mobility. There may be a few priviledged rich students who can take advantage of such training, but most of us simply don't have the money, and nor do our families. By any measure, South Asian Studies presently fails, in general, at training researchers in language skills. A wider range of people would be drawn to South Asian studies if the curriculum were broader, and if the programs and departments concentrated on their proper role as a resource base and information nexus for otherwise isolated scholars in other disciplines. South Asian studies departments have made no effort at all to seek out possible connections with, say, business schools, or to contact the private and corporate sectors at all. At present the area studies system has little to offer anyone doing business in South Asia, and therefore, we can expect little from businessmen. However, interestingly enough, a number of students who drop out of South Asia-related graduate programs do become involved in business ventures between the U.S. and South Asia. If the small scholarly world of South Asian studies is to survive the funding crunch, we have to close ranks around some sort of mission statement. Instead we have been plagued by in-fighting within departments, by inter-department struggles involving a great deal of back-stabbing, by the development of an "ivory tower" mentality toward our work, and by rather intense manipulation of many scholars by the National Security Establishment. All of this has tended to denegrate our work in general; half the time you tell someone you are in "South Asian Studies", they think you specialize in Vietnam and start asking you about Thailand. But such confusion is not surprising when some South Asian Studies programs close down their out-reach programs when forced to reduce their budgets. From the perspective of university administrators we look pathetic indeed; the voting public, if they were even aware of our existence, would probaby get rid of us altogether. Sadly, our only friends seem to work for the Pentagon, and we have become far too reliant upon the military for our money, thus casting everything we do in a suspect light. These are the major issues facing South Asian studies right now, and until we can begin internal reforms, we are not likely to be able to take advantage of any sudden surge of interest in India's economic boom. No one is likely to invest in a confused and inefficient system. - James Hoover Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison Dept. of History firstname.lastname@example.org ---- Ed. note: I am moved to observe that Mr. Hoover's comments appear to be focussed primarily upon centers, even departments, of South Asian Studies. My original post was not intended to focus solely upon centers or departments. Some of the other generalizations advanced may prompt modifying or amending responses. F.F.C. ================================================================= To post to H-ASIA send your message to H-ASIA@msu.edu To temporarily interrupt your H-ASIA service for holidays send a posting to <email@example.com> with the message: SET H-ASIA NOMAIL When you return and wish to resume H-ASIA service send a similar posting with message: SET H-ASIA MAIL Private questions should go to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com