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A Proposal to the Ford Foundation
June 1, 1997
Center for International and Comparative Studies
University of Iowa
The University of Iowa proposes to use Ford Foundation funds during Phase 1 to carry out two ambitious projects that will forge closer research, instructional and theoretical links between the South Asian Studies and African Studies programs. In one project a year-long sequence involving study-group meetings, sequential visits to Africa and India, joint-area instruction, and a coordinated conference will be carried out under the rubric of "Diasporas and Exchanges across the Indian Ocean."
In another project, entitled "Indian Films and Filmmakers beyond the Subcontinent," South Asian studies, African studies and film studies scholars will explore the activity of film directors of South Asian origin who work in multiple locations and address spatially diverse audiences yet provide the strongest possible evidence for diasporic consciousness and connection. Both projects exemplify new ways to configure area studies to emphasize "second-area" and "cross-area" methods and to respond to pressures inside and outside the University that will eventually alter graduate training and faculty research.
A year-end Convocation and summer seminar, both addressing the themes of "Global Theory and Area Studies," will round out Phase 1 activities. Graduate students will be heavily involved in all phases of all activities. The UI administration wholeheartedly backs these proposals and will provide matches and administrative support to underpin them.
An invitation from the Ford Foundation (FORD) to reconsider area studies comes at an opportune moment for the University of Iowa (UI). The UI has steadily supported its five interdisciplinary area-studies programs (Africa, East Asia, Latin America, Russia and Eastern Europe, South Asia), has been attentive to the lesser-taught as well as more commonly taught foreign languages, and a result there is greater student interest than ever before in area studies and non-European language acquisition. The area-studies faculty have already begun to explore cross-area training and research projects that transcend an older, more hermetic model of area studies. A series of study groups and cross area initiatives undertaken in the last two years and continuing over the next academic year will be considerably enhanced with FORD support, and UI area studies faculty will be in a position to evaluate these initiatives, to integrate their most successful features into their teaching, and to plan further developments to involve themselves with a wider circle of collaborators.
The ways in which the UI proposes to use FORD funds during Phase 1 is described below. Essentially, the funds will strengthen a new kind of graduate training and forge closer research and curricular links between scholars in the South Asian Studies (SASP) and African Studies programs (ASP). In one project beginning in fall of 1997 the initiative will take the form of a year-long sequence of study-group meetings, research seminars, sequential visits to Africa and India, joint-area instruction, and coordinated conferences, all connected to the theme of "Diasporas and Exchanges across the Indian Ocean." In a second, similarly intense collaboration during the spring of 1998, scholars from SASP, ASP and the Institute for Cinema and Culture (ICC) will investigate the spread and reception of Indian films outside India. In particular they will explore the work of several diasporic film directors of South Asian origin who are working in multiple locations, addressing spatially and addressing culturally diverse audiences. Their renditions of hyphenated experiences span several continents. This collaboration will involve study-group meetings, distinguished visitors and a major symposium, all under the rubric "Indian Films and Filmmakers beyond the Subcontinent." Both projects will fully involve graduate students and faculty from the two area studies programs as well as from film studies.
Other, already scheduled activities that directly relate to and enhance this initiative and that have been funded by the UI Center for International and Comparative Studies (CICS) include:
- A year-long (1997-98) seminar on South Asian cultural production, "Moving Pictures and Pictures of Movement," in which participants will highlight the role of contemporary film-makers, writers, and activists within and beyond South Asia's borders. As bearers of (an often-problematized) culture, they challenge hegemonic world views and transform the ways in which we understand the postmodern world. Whether residing on the Subcontinent or in other parts of the world, they have made the South Asian experience an important source of well-known postmodern and post-colonial critiques.
- A three-day conference (spring 1998) conducted by ASP on "Ethnicity, Identity and Literature in the Francophone Islands of East Africa." This is part of a larger consideration by ASP of "process geography" a term that refers to separated peoples and places connected by long-term historical transactions. While a lot is known about the West African Diaspora, little is known about the diaspora to the east and across the Indian Ocean. The organizers will prepare for the conference by inviting a Malagasy/African/Indian Ocean island writer into residence to offer a series of lectures over the fall of 1997 and then hold the conference in spring of 1998, inviting several scholars together from US and foreign universities to discuss methods for studying the way French-language literature helps construct African identity.
The FORD grant will enable UI scholars to conclude a year-long series of public events with:
- A two-day "Convocation on Global Theory and Area Studies" in May of 1998 that will bring outside scholars, participants from the ASP-SASP projects, and other area studies faculty together for an evaluation of the adequacy of current globalization theory. During the Convocation a panel will be dedicated specifically to graduate students to interrogate (and criticize) visiting speakers and UI faculty about their assumptions and practices.
- The Convocation will be followed by a two-week faculty-student Terminal Seminar in late May-early June of 1998 that will formally review the previous year of research, travel and conferencing, bringing the formulations made in the Global Theory Convocation to bear on the specifics of regional investigations. Four graduate students will have their tuition paid to participate in the Seminar. A volume of readings, produced by participating faculty and graduate students and intended for use in area studies courses, will emerge from the Seminar. Papers from the Convocation as well as papers and reports emerging from the ASP-SASP projects will form the bulk of the publication.
While each of the activities proposed for 1997-98 can stand alone, they are in fact enhancements or extensions of existing projects that will continue to be pursued and will mesh with future projects, if and when additional support is forthcoming from FORD or other sources. The SASP-ASP collaboration during 1997-98 will be followed in later years by collaborations among other area-studies programs and between the area programs and related research, collegiate and professional units. For example, the Latin American Studies Program will collaborate with other units during 1998-99 to develop an initiative on "Critical Theory and the Humanities"; the Russian and East European Studies Program is planning a project with SASP on "Post-Soviet Democratization in India and Russia" to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UN Charter on Human Rights; and the Center for International Rural and Environmental Health proposes a project the following year to examine the relationship between area studies and broad processes determining rural health and well-being.
The UI central administration wholeheartedly backs these proposals and will provide matches and administrative support to underpin these efforts. A steering committee made up of senior area-studies faculty with national research reputations (D. Andrew, P. Greenough, P. Lutgendorf, M. McNulty, K. Newman, A. Roberts, J. Silliman) has been formed to guide and evaluate Phase 1 activities and to prepare Phase 2 proposals to be submitted to FORD. At the end of Phase 1 the steering committee will disseminate a report on the activities undertaken, and results achieved through electronic and paper communications; it will also oversee publication of a set papers to be assembled in a summer seminar described below.
Intellectual Rationale and Thematic Focus
A key need in US -based area studies is to enhance the knowledge and skills of graduate students as well as area studies faculty. A new kind of training is required, one that prepares at least some scholars for research and teaching in more than one area and language. Not only do globalizing processes encourage a wider competence, but the marketplace increasingly rewards those who work cross-area and across disciplines. However, just at the moment when the integrative effects of capital and cultural flows, intra/inter-continental migrations, expanding electronic media reach and PC to PC networking accelerate, universities have grown cautious about making appointments solely for the sake of area-studies programs. It appears that the provision of enhanced area expertise and training must be satisfied within the limits of existing resources, because universities cannot expect vast external support as was the case in earlier decades.
At UI we propose to meet some of these needs by instituting second-area training, intra-and inter-institutional bridging and cross-area research. In this proposal we define "second-area training" as strengthening an area scholar's knowledge and skills through cross-area and interdisciplinary study groups, through area-mixed seminars and conferences and through new language skills; it also includes focused travel beyond the scholar's principal geographical area. FORD support to UI has made some of these intellectual enlargements possible in the recent past through its five-year "Bridging Project" and "Training the Next Generation of Africanists" grants. Currently, the University is seeking ways to institutionalize cross-disciplinary training and inter-institutional work through its small-grants program. In a similar vein we understand "institutional bridging" in this proposal to mean working across university boundaries like those separating disciplines, divisions and colleges, and also acquiring direct experience working with scholars in foreign institutions; and "cross-area research" means teams of scholars coming together to explore key issues that arise at the margins of linguistic and geographical areas where cultural and social processes mingle, fade, potentiate or simply overlap. The results of these bridging, cross-area research and second-area activities will be affect redirect graduate training as new contents and concepts from faculty researches enter a revised curriculum.
Increasingly UI graduate programs in liberal arts departments admit top-flight students who demand to do research at the periphery of established areas. For example, an advanced student is researching South Asian immigration and identity in Dar es Salaam; he taking his exams in Indian as well as in African history. He already has traveled in Gujarat and Tanzania to scout archives and establish local contacts, and has just been awarded a FLAS Fellowship to begin Hindi (while continuing advanced Swahili) next fall. Another student's field research has turned up a vast penetration of Hindu imagery into the ritual practices of the Vodun peoples of coastal West Africa; while her foremost area is African art history, she requires tailored instruction in Indian religion and several months' stay in Western India to complete her research. A third student in American Studies will be researching the spread of "bio-diversity" values and practices into the tropical world; he envisages extensive travel to interview ecologists in South Asia next summer. In these and other cases second-area training is essential, yet it has been difficult to secure the necessary language and course instruction to fulfill their program needs because such training has little standing in graduate programs. A similar problem affects area-studies faculty whose research crosses geographic and linguistic boundaries. Given that academic careers span 35 or more years, it should become a norm that area scholars will be supported in their efforts to gain additional area expertise and foreign language skills. Hence, with FORD support, we propose a number of projects that push area-studies students and faculty toward such training. Two of the students who will be at UI next year will participate in the "Diasporas and Exchanges across the Indian Ocean" study initiative.
Activities to be Supported
UI faculty have agreed to invest effort during 1997-98 in two large projects and several supporting conferencing and seminar activities. The two projects include a year-long study group focused on East African-Western Indian linkages ("Diaspora and Exchange across the Indian Ocean") and a project to use advanced film and literature theories to explain the circulation of popular Indian films in Africa and elsewhere outside India ("Indian Films and Filmmakers in Reception beyond the Subcontinent"}. In addition a two-pronged effort is contemplated to make sense of insights gained in the first two projects--namely, a University Convocation and a Terminal Seminar, both of which will address "Global Theory and Area Studies."
Project 1: Diaspora and Exchange across the Indian Ocean
During 1997-98 seven to ten faculty and students in approximately equal numbers and drawn from both African studies and Indian studies, will participate in a study-group to explore the literature on the social, artistic, ritual and economic aspects of exchange and acculturation between western India and coastal east-Africa (present-day Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa) via the Persian Gulf since 1500 CE. These exchanges and influences are the subject of a fledgling field of research into diasporas, migrations, labor exchanges, trading communities, etc., that has produced less than a dozen sound books and articles in the last 20 years. While there are several full-length studies of Indians in East Africa, there is very little written on Indians elsewhere in Africa nor on Africans in India. Nonetheless the literature establishes the presence of Islamicized families and groups of African descent (so-called Siddis) in specific villages in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh dating perhaps from 1500 CE or thereabouts. In addition, recent work by an ASP graduate student, Dana Rush, has established that parts of the Hindu pantheon have been assimilated into the worship of the principal Vodun gods in West Africa; these deities are represented in rituals by lavish Hindu lithographs, and the Vodun priests and priestesses are known to go to India to gain "powers," while Indian people living in Benin come to Vodun priests and priestesses for spiritual benefits. Africa-India encounters are a field of enormous theoretical potential for understanding cross-area processes over long periods, especially the determinants of the ebb and flow in such exchanges.
The study group will build on existing strengths and contacts acquired with a previous two-year FORD grant to ASP for "Training the Next Generation of Africanists"; this grant supported conferences on "Urban Africa" in 1995-96 and 'The Western Africa Diaspora" in 1996-97. These themes will be extended during 1997-98 in an ASP conference on "African Diasporas"--emphasis on the plural--which will be structured in part around themes and issues thrown up by the Africa-India study group. An anthropologist participant in the ASP Diaspora conference, Dr. Ananda Devi from Mauritius, will be asked to extend her stay in May of 1998 to participate in the "Convocation on Area Studies and Global Theory."
Similarly, the SASP group has held three workshops in the last two years on the theme "Movement and Memory: the South Asian Mastery of Displacement"; these workshops focused on the adaptive aspects of an Indian Diaspora that began as early as 1800. As in the past, graduate student sessions will be held in the workshops/conferences to allow students to present prospectuses and preliminary research findings.) The study group, to be chaired by an anthropologist, Professor Allen Roberts, who has expertise in tribal arts, inter-cultural technology exchanges, cultural theory and museum studies, will meet throughout 1997-98. During the winter break, six members (including two students) will make a three-week site visit to Tanzania and Gujarat, where first one half of the group and then the other will familiarize themselves with the reality of a second area. UI faculty have had experience with such focused travel as the result of an earlier FORD grant to the University of Iowa and Grinnell College, which supported several short well-organized "bridging" tours abroad after intensive preparation in on-campus study groups. Local consultants (to be identified via established links to social science departments) will direct the group to previously identified informants, experts and sites in Tanzania and India. After returning to the US the study group will continue to meet during spring 1998, and the concepts and materials that are found valuable by the study group will be introduced in joint sessions of two hitherto separate area-studies courses, "The Social Science History of India" (P. Greenough) and "African Diasporas" (A. Roberts).
Indian Films and Filmmakers in Reception beyond the Subcontinent
Indian popular film is now recognized as a powerful current in the flow of trans-national cultures, offering mass audiences throughout the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as diasporic communities worldwide, a valued alternative to Euro-American mass genres. Though popular, Indian film is also controversial: the immense output of this "second cinema" that largely ignores (or subverts) Western formulas, even as it practices its own brand of stylistic and thematic hegemony, raises fascinating issues of visual style and narrative substance in a transnational context. Hence a second study group, directed by Professors Philip Lutgendorf (Hindi and Modern Indian Culture) and Dudley Andrew (Comparative Literature and Film Theory), will explore the dynamics of the worldwide supply and demand for Hindi films. This group--comprising seven faculty and graduate students from area and cinema studies--will build on an earlier film pro-seminar on Indian cinema (fall 1996) and will parallel a SASP seminar series ("Moving Pictures and Pictures of Movement," 1997-98) and will highlight the place of Indian filmmakers, writers and activists within and beyond South Asia. In particular, the study group will examine the marketing, dubbing, promoting and exhibition of Hindi films in urban Africa. As a climax to the group's work, it will host in spring 1998 a conference on "Bollywood (Un)limited: the Globalization of Indian Cinema," in which the noted film scholar, Ashish Rajadhyaksha, and the distinguished British-Indian director, Gurinder Chadha ("Bhaji on the Beach"), have agreed participate. In an anticipated Phase 2 activity (for which FORD funding is not now proposed), SASP, ASP and Institute for Cinema and Culture faculty and graduate students will visit film production and distribution centers in India. Long-term goals include the development of an archive of Indian films and videos and the provision of regular courses devoted to South Asian cinema.
Conferencing, seminars and curricular innovations. Interdisciplinary and cross-area study-groups, seminars and workshops, and travel and research activities like those proposed above will require serious efforts to integrate and evaluate if they are to have any impact on training and research. As noted, the UI will organize a university-wide "Convocation on Global Theory and Area Studies" in late spring 1998 to review the status of theoretical concepts (e.g. hybridity, diaspora, postmodernity, cultural studies, visual regimes, post-development) and weigh them against the results of our own year of effort. Distinguished theorists (e.g. Garcia Nestor-Canclini and Arjun Appadurai) who are familiar with the issues will be asked to address UI area scholars. Subsequently in the summer session of 1998 a two-week workshop on the same topic will be organized by Professors Roberts and Lutgendorf in which 12 faculty and at least 4 graduate students will debate draft and published essays on a variety of theories in light of a year-long immersion at the intersection of African and Indian cultures. Stipends for the faculty participants and tuition grants for students will ensure a high degree of commitment to the discussions.
The five UI area studies programs are small but vigorous teaching and research units that have been combined for some years as constituents (along with half a dozen thematic programs) in the Center for International and Comparative Studies (CICS), a Title VI National Resource Center. The Center, which is both a structure and an actor, awards competitive grants that promote new curricular efforts and non-library research; the Center is also a well-equipped site for hundreds of seminars, lectures, workshops and other international activities annually. Neither administratively nor intellectually isolated from each other, UI area programs already work in a loose relationship of competition (for curricular and research grants) and cooperation (in arranging for speakers, colloquia and conferences that have mutual interest and attraction). Hence the proposals made to FORD here are realistic and achievable. Externally our potential partners include Indian and African research centers and universities (e.g. the University of Dar es Salaam, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad) with which UI and CICS maintains linkage relationships for research and exchanges.
Significance of the proposal
Area studies faculty more than anyone else are aware that real area expertise lies in the mastery of at least one foreign language, one body of literature and one region of the world. Deep knowledge of local sites, key persons, regional values and national institutions and keeping up on-going institutional and scholarly connections are at the heart of effective area-studies training scholarship. Nonetheless, the hermetic model of area studies training that developed in the US in earlier decades frankly discouraged scholars from venturing into a wider world where complex connections and influences swirled. In the last ten years it has become axiomatic that the older model of scholarship and training must change, albeit without shattering the academic programs that succeeded in inculcating languages, theoretical facility and feelings of connectedness with often very distant informants, colleagues and collaborators. At the same time the national and ethnic demography of the profession has completely altered, and practices once designed unthinkingly for American-born graduate students are not well suited to foreign-born students and faculty who have been admitted and appointed in top US universities.
The present proposal to FORD, with its emphasis on "second-area" and "bridging" activities, is an effort to develop new mechanisms to incorporate state-of-the-art research issues and advanced theoretical formulations into our training programs while maintaining high expectations of competence in foreign languages and area-specific literatures. Most faculty as well as students can benefit from these changed approaches, yet not all UI faculty and students will regard or respond. While confident that our proposals have merit, we are frankly curious how other universities are tackling FORD's bold "Crossing Barriers" Request for Proposals and we hoping to share in the innovations adopted by peer programs across the country.