Writing in East Asian Studies: An Overview
With the rising cultural, literary, political, and economic significance of East Asian countries globally, we are witnessing a demand for greater knowledge of the customs, traditions, literatures, and languages of this region. The Department of East Asian Studies provides students with rigorous training in the study of China, Japan, and Korea. Its interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to provide a balance between broad-based knowledge of the region and deeper expertise in the languages and cultures of one or more of the region’s territories. The goal is for our students to gain proficiency with the challenging linguistic and analytical tools needed to conduct conscientious research, as well as to learn about the critical and theoretical models through which the region’s history and culture are interpreted. The core of this training is developed through guided coursework, of which language classes form a central part, and substantial independent work completed under the close auspices of faculty advisers. Regular individual advising sessions with the director of undergraduate studies (DUS) and close communication amongst the faculty are the base upon which the success of these goals is assessed, a crucial process made efficient by the department’s relatively small size.
The independent work that majors complete across their four semesters in the department, including two junior papers (20-25 pages) and one senior thesis (60-100 pages, or around 25,000 words of text excluding footnotes), are vital to the overall intellectual goals of the Department of East Asian Studies. These projects, as diverse as the eclectic disciplinary, historical and regional focuses of the department’s faculty members and course offerings, encourage students to pursue their individual interests with the methodological skills developed through their coursework. EAS defines itself by its subject matter, not disciplinary approach or mode of inquiry. In this sense, independent work in EAS is inherently interdisciplinary. Students are encouraged to experiment and explore a wide range of methods and approaches to guide their research, selecting those most suitable to the question they are posing. While there is great flexibility for majors in terms of chronology, geography, and methodology, they in all cases should first identify a truly exciting research question and strive to formulate an argument in the process of answering that question.
Training in the most effective research, interpretation and writing methods for independent work begins in earnest with the Junior Seminar, taught by the DUS, which all majors must take in the fall semester of their junior year. Reading exercises and assignments dedicated to advancing analytical and interpretive skills and investigation of intra-regional issues and debates form the core of the seminar’s curriculum. While working through the specific materials germane to the topic at hand, students are taught how to conceive of cultural, social and historical problems, to generate questions with which to address them, to employ tactics and strategies for doing research, and to effectively analyze, interpret, organize, and present their findings.