Asia on the move

As we have been posting syllabi and asking for comments I thought I would do something radical and post one for a class that I will not be teaching until next Fall, in hopes of getting comments in time to do something about them.

The class is ASIA 200 the intro class for our Asian Studies minors. This will be the first time it has been taught, so I am not really sure how it will work out. We introduced it in part because Latin American Studies and Pan-African Studies have intro classes, but we don’t, and we figure that it will bring the students together. 1

The class is supposed to introduce as many parts of Asia as possible, and as many disciplinary approaches as possible. I organized it around a general theme of travel. The theme, of course, does not really matter, it’s just something to hang the course on. A lot of this is stuff that I am not really all that familiar with. What I wanted to do was find a range of interesting teachable things. I am really looking forward to the class, since one of the frustrations of this job is that I often read or see interesting things, but then I have no venue to teach about them. Now, with a bit of creativity, I do. Any advice about any of these topics, other better ways to do things, better sources etc. is very welcome.

1 I suppose it is worth explaining what the point of the class is. Like many places we have an interdisciplinary Asian Studies program that has almost no budget and no “real” faculty, in the sense of people who are hired to teach Asian Studies. Instead we have a group of people who have been hired by various departments to teach about Asia, and the University gave us a huge pile of money (Well, it would be a pretty big pile if you traded it in for pennies) to set up an interdisciplinary minor. As a result our course list consists of anything about Asia that any department thinks is worth teaching for some reason, rather than a group of classes that are supposed to go together somehow. This means that there is not much structure to the minor, and this class is supposed to help provide that. A lot of our students also don’t realize how broad this field is, and we are supposed to expose them to a lot of stuff.


  1. Looks like fun. You might want, in your final syllabus, to be a bit clearer about the methodologies represented by the various texts. If you want to stick closer to the travel theme, there’s been some great anthropological work done on tourism in Japan, including work on Tokyo Disneyland and international tourism; that said, I think weddings are a fantastic point of entry as well, having both very modern elements and lots of traditional throwback components.

    Also, how are you defining “indigenous peoples” for the assignment?

  2. “Indigenous peoples” are basically anybody James Scott talks about in his stuff on people who move around. I am hoping that he will publish somthing short and under-grad friendly on that part of his work before I teach it.

    I will actually probably drop the methodological mentions from the final text. I mostly put that in for the benefit of the university curriculum people.

    Could you toss me a reference on the Tokyo Disneyland stuff? I might be able to do something with that especially in connection with some stuff on Tamen mini, the mini-indonesia in Jakarta.

  3. The work I’m familiar with is Aviad Raz’s Riding the Black Ship: Japan and Tokyo Disneyland. There’s also a chapter: Brannen, Mary Yoko. 1992. “”Bwana Mickey”: Constructing Cultural Consumption at Tokyo Disneyland.” Pp. 216-234 in Re-Made in Japan, edited by J. Tobin.

  4. Organize the course around: Confucianism vs. Taoism vs. Japanese nationalism and arguments for uniqueness. American students have no grasp of teaching from authority or the deep understanding of human nature in Confucianism and Taoism (which I know are opposed). Next talk and read about the Chinese family system which is arguably one of the enduring products of human evolution on the planet and raises a multitude of questions about the American shattered family system.

  5. Interesting syllabus! I don’t know if you want to include political science in the disciplines you are considering, but there is an important topic you have missed: internal migration. This is becoming ever more crucial throughout Asia in terms of political stability, economic development, and spread of diseases like AIDS.

    Miriam Gross

  6. Miriam,

    That sounds like an interesting idea. Do you have any suggestions for undergraduate-friendly readings?

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