Area Studies in Transnational Perspective

The destiny of contemporary life, both individual and collective, lies at the nexus of global and local experience. More than ever, distinctive histories and identities are shaped by national, continental, and transnational movements of commerce, ecology, technology, expression, and—quite literally—people. This ongoing process of cultural encounter has enriched the world’s repertoire of knowledge and art while provoking some of its most intractable problems. If students are both to appreciate the immense palette of world cultures and to act responsibly as global citizens they must develop a pluralistic vision of diverse geopolitical exchanges. They must both understand the processes of globalization and learn to question the concept of “globalization” itself; and they must acquire substantive knowledge about areas of the world, while also grasping that areas themselves are highly contingent constructs that remain open to evolving definitions (be they defined by topography, culture, political economy, history, or language).

Haverford’s commitment to advancing students’ grasp of our “global” world is embodied above all by our Area Studies concentrations. Area studies were initiated at Haverford in the 1970s and 1980s with the establishment of Concentrations in Africana Studies, Latin American and Iberian Studies, and East Asian Studies; these have now been joined by a new Concentration in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. Our area studies concentrations have helped internationalize our curriculum by establishing robust programs of regional studies that merge the analytical strengths of the social sciences—especially Anthropology, Economics, History, Political Science, and Sociology—with the cultural and linguistic expertise of the humanities. Students concentrating in one of our area studies programs marry the literacy gained by intensive language study and cultural immersion to the close examination of their chosen region through their disciplinary major. Our current area studies programs are as follows:

  • African & Africana Studies brings together faculty from the departments of Anthropology, Biology, English, French, Religion, Philosophy, and Political Science to provide students with an interdisciplinary approach to examining African peoples around the world. In particular, Africana studies links political history to cultural experience and calls into question the boundaries that often continue to separate the study of Africa from other parts of the world.
  • Asian Studies is currently focused on the languages and cultures of East Asia, particularly China and Japan. The Bi-­‐College Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures works with East Asianists in the social sciences and humanities to offer a variety of approaches to the study of East Asia, all built on the foundation of two superb language programs in Chinese and Japanese. Faculty in both the East Asian Languages and Studies Department and the associated social science and humanities departments stress East Asia’s global role in the past and present. This transnational perspective will be further enlarged as we endeavor to incorporate fields in South and Southeast Asia to the Asian Studies concentration.
  • Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Studies promotes interdisciplinary exploration of the cultures of Latin America, Hispanic North America, and Spain in conjunction with a disciplinary major in Anthropology, Economics, History, History of Art, Linguistics, Political Science, Religion, or Spanish. Currently the concentration is founded on the achievement of competence in Spanish, and we hope in the near future to offer Portuguese language training and coverage of Portugal/Brazil.
  • Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, the newest of our area studies concentrations, is a collaborative program sponsored by colleagues in Anthropology, Art History, History, Political Science, Religion, and Sociology. Because of the vast geographic scope traversed by Islam, students can satisfy the program’s language requirement by achieving competence in a variety of relevant languages, including (among others) Chinese, French, or Hebrew. But given the centrality of Arabic to the study of both the Middle East and Islam it is an overriding goal of the Concentration to expand our current offerings to a truly robust Arabic language program.

As with the first two constellations, scholarship and learning embodied in our area studies concentrations will be strengthened with new spatial configurations on campus. The study of global areas is heavily dependent on digital technologies that facilitate cross-cultural communication and provide access to source material from around the world. In this respect, the planned renovation of Magill Library and the creation of a Digital Commons will greatly enhance teaching and research in transnational and area studies, while also facilitating collaboration among students and faculty working in different regions. Similarly, the cross-cultural and inter-­media studies facilitated by a renewed Music library and VCAM will energize students’ embodied encounters with myriad expressive forms and traditions.