Virtual Roundtable on “Oceanic Asia: Global History, Japanese Waters, and the Edges of Area Studies”
Ian J. Miller (Harvard University), Nadin Heé (Osaka University), David Howell (Harvard University), Stefan Huebner (NUS), Manako Ogawa (Ritsumeikan University), Sujit Sivasundaram (Cambridge University), Takehiro Watanabe (Sophia University)
October 5, 2021
1:00 pm BST/8:00 am EST
The roundtable will take place through Zoom at the Asia Research Institute (ARI) of the National University of Singapore (NUS). To register, please use this link.
Asia’s oceans demand our attention. Violent and fecund, they define life in the region: pushing the shore under the rush of tsunami; charging typhoon circulation and seasonal monsoons; feeding billions. And yet, Asian Studies remains largely beholden to a terrestrial view of the world that is at odds with the importance of the sea across all eras of the region’s history. This “terrestrial bias” also means that oceans are seen as dividers or connectors, while the interaction with the wet environment often remains obscure.
This “Oceanic Asia” roundtable convenes a multi-national and multi-disciplinary group to expand the scope of Asian Studies and, in particular, global Japan’s place within it. We do this by drawing from the broader turn to the sea—the “new thalassology”—that is developing within our fields and in adjacent areas such as Pacific History, Indian Ocean Studies, and environmental history. Oceanic and global perspectives are opening up new spaces that were often left untouched by area studies and maritime history. Approaching the nation-state from an oceanic “outside in” perspective also provides new insights into historical agency. Taking “ocean time” instead of terrestrial time into account will bridge modern and pre-modern interactions with the sea above and below its surface. Doing so also draws our attention to environmental, territorial, and social practices and changes. We will investigate especially those that emerged from or took place in the greater Pacific region, driven by our shared interest in integrating Asia and Japan more strongly into global and transnational oceanic history. This interest will lead us far beyond Asia’s coastlines. But it will also help us to shed light on coastal regions otherwise marginalized in “terrestrial” or port-oriented global histories.
Seeing the ocean as more than merely empty space between entrepots or political entities thus elicits questions: How does thinking with and about and against the sea require us to change our practice as humanists and social scientists? Does an oceanic perspective change how we understand the trans- of “trans-national”, “trans-regional”, or other scalar frames? What interests are unsettled by an oceanic approach, especially within the ambit of Asian Studies?