Global Asia Initiative Hosts Workshop on Cirum-Himalayan Rivers

Feb.16, 2018
By Zhang Yinglu, MA student, Asian/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke

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The workshop Six Rivers in Historical Time includes six papers about the human-nature relationships on six Asian rivers originating from the Himalayas in pre-modern and modern periods. The speakers analyzed how people adapted to and utilized the rivers, and how the riverine communities being shaped and reshaped by the rivers in various perspectives.

Drs. Ling Zhang and Yan Gao focused on two major rivers in China and how their fates have intertwined with politics. Ling Zhang’s paper stressed the limited function of the states through her interpretation of Mencius’ critique of “treating your neighbors as gully,” questioning that by constantly shifting problems to others and transferring them to the recipients of harms, we are facing a kind of ethical crisis in the process of solving ecological issues. Yan Gao revealed a complex picture of how the waterway transportation networks were shaped by social and ecological agencies jointly in late imperial Central China. She emphasized the social and environmental impacts brought by the ten-year Yangtze waterways’ blockade on the middle Yangtze region and the significance of local communities in managing the unpredictable situations.

The studies on the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Mekong River elaborate more about the local riverine communities. Dr. Saikia discussed the life of gold washers, fishermen, boatmen along the Brahmaputra River and the intimacy developed between the river and its people’s livelihood and their mutual influences. Dr. Singh analyzed how the development modern laws of India interacted with the morphological conditions of the Ganges River and how such socio-ecological entanglements had transformed the entire mid-Ganga region. Dr. Gilmartin shed light on how the Indus basin became one of the most heavily engineered in the world through the interconnection of political powers and their physical environment. He pointed out two major turning points in the river-people relationships in Indus basin: the British colonial vision of a scientific empire and the influence of the Indian and Pakistani nation-states.

Dr. Stark shared her fascinating archeological project about the Angkorian worlds at the workshop. She discussed the life along the Mekong River during 6th-8th century CE. Interestingly, while the everyday life was shaped by the Mekong river ecology, the pre-Angkorian riverine communities developed a bottom-up system of the river management, and they gained some regional autonomy by providing some goods to the political capital. During her talk, she emphasized the climatic and ecological factors in the collapse of Angkor and signs of resilience from local communities.

The audience was engaged in the talks and discussions. Issues explored further during the discussions include the effects of the global climatic patterns on the rivers and their communities, alternative strategies in water management, environmental ethics, elements of local sustainability, and concepts such as social metabolism in understanding ecological crisis.  

Video Recording of the Workshop

Blood and Water in the Indus Basin with David Gilmartin:

Flood, Avulsion and Governance: The Ganga river in Nineteenth Century with Vipul Singh:

Premodern Khmers and their Mekong: Ecology and Agency in Archaeological Perspective with Miriam Stark:

Gold washers, Fishermen, and Boatmen: Was there a pre-modern life of the Brahmaputra? With Arupjyoti Saikia:

Dr. Prasenjit Duara elected as Vice-President of the Association for Asian Studies of America

Dr. Prasenjit Duara

Global Asia Initiative is delighted to announce that the GAI director Dr. Prasenjit Duara has been elected vice-president of the Association for Asian Studies of America. As with many learned societies, the vice-president of the AAS will assume the role of president in the following year in 2019-2020.
The Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is a scholarly, non-political, non-profit professional association open to all persons interested in Asia and the study of Asia. With approximately 7,000 members worldwide, representing all the regions and countries of Asia and all academic disciplines, the AAS is the largest organization of its kind. GAI congratulates Dr Duara on this major honor. 
AAS 2017 Election Results

Duke Welcomes Anderson to Speak on China's Southwest Silk Road

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On November 1st, Duke welcomed Professor James Anderson, Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro to lead a talk on China’s Southwest Silk Road.

Anderson took us on an engaging historical journey on the famed trade route with striking imagery. The talk was perfectly timed with the U.S. President embarking on a 5 nation tour of Asia, including China, on November 3rd. He took us down history lane from the end of the Han dynasty in the 3rd Century BCE through Marco Polo in the 13th century CE to the 1963 discovery of Cui Chengsi’s tomb.

Along the way, we learned about the ascent of the Cuan clan and how its influence persisted over centuries. It was fascinating to hear Anderson talk about the rich history of southwest China and its frontier people. It was interesting to learn how the depiction of history can be reexamined in a new light and how ethnographic study offers useful new approaches to handling historical documents like maps and court records.

Anderson's talk was sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Center and the Duke Global Asia Initiative

Journey of the Universe and Thomas Berry (Online courses now available in Chinese)


The Journey of the Universe courses and the Thomas Berry course are being launched today, October 2nd, in Chinese through Yale/Coursera.This is an auspicious time as October 1st is the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

The Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are accessible here:

The Journey of the Universe book has also been published in Chinese through Posts and Telecom Press.

Prasenjit Duara Awarded Honorary Doctorate

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Prasenjit Duara has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Oslo. The award was presented on September 1 in Oslo, Norway.

Duara, a historian, is Oscar Tang Chair of East Asian Studies at Duke, where he also directs the Duke Global Asia Initiative. His research interests include modern Chinese social and cultural history and nationalism and transnationalism. His most recent book is “The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future.” In awarding the degree, committee members praised Duara for demonstrating how “topics like climate change and environmental degradation can be studied in Asian historical context with regards to the global future.”

Duara previously served as a history professor at the University of Chicago and as Raffles Professor of Humanities and director of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.

To access the Duke Today article, please click here