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Publishing New Asia Scholarship December 18, 2015 10:43

Paul Kratoska and I co-wrote this article which was published in the Autumn edition of The Newsletter of the Institute for International Asian Studies, a stimulating issue that looks at the big trends in Asian Studies.

This year’s twelve-title shortlist for the ICAS Book Awards on social sciences and humanities included three books first published in Asia (two by NUS Press). For the new EuroSEAS Nikkei Book Awards given in Vienna in August this year, five of six finalists originated in Asia. And in March this year, the US Association of Asian Studies (AAS) awarded its Kahin Prize to M.C. Ricklefs’ Islamisation and its Opponents in Java: A Political, Social, Cultural and Religious History, a book originated in 2012 by NUS Press at the National University of Singapore. Remarkably, this was the first time any book published in Asia received an AAS book prize.

It took a long time to reach this particular milestone, and it is useful to explore what it might mean.

Does it tell us anything about the shifts in Asian Studies? About new Asia scholars? Despite many predictions over the years that the centre of Asian Studies would shift to Asia, why is so much of Asian Studies scholarship still published outside Asia? And does that matter?

The past few decades have brought an explosion of scholarship on Asia carried out by scholars at Asian universities. The greater part of this research is published in local languages and receives little attention outside of the countries where it appears, and like scholarship in other parts of the world, it tends to come out in the form of journal articles rather than monographs.

Asian-language scholarship often deals with issues of particular concern to the countries where it originates, and is part of a conversation that does not actively invite participation by outsiders. Many universities, research centres and other institutions in East and Southeast Asia publish scholarly periodicals that handle this material. A rough calculation suggests that there are more than 40,000 such publications, many of them fully funded by Asian institutions.

However, the major universities in Asia now expect scholars to publish research articles in internationally recognized journals covered by major citation indexes, in effect requiring them to write and publish in English. When Asian scholars do this, their audience shifts. Potential readers include scholars in the West, but also scholars based in other Asian countries who may well find parallels with their own research concerns. (Recent work that fits this model deals with topics such as regionalism and Asian identity.) As a publisher based in Asia, we look to for opportunities to nurture this second audience.

Recent initiatives such as the Consortium for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia (SEASIA) launched in 2013 suggest that institutions and scholars will increasingly work within widespread networks, electronic and personal, that extend across national borders. Technological advances in the production and distribution of books are creating a global book market. While traditional library  markets in the West are under severe pressure, it is possible for publishers in Asia to reach them with greater ease.

Asian markets are becoming more open and transparent in response to a growing demand for access to information. The more savvy publishers from the West are originating more works from Asia, basing commissioning editors in the region and commissioning more local peer reviews.

Manuscripts written by Western authors are often written to explain Asia to the West, and adopt an “outside-looking-in” perspective on matters of great import to audiences in the region.

Frequently these manuscripts represent solid scholarship, but they position their discussion within the theoretical concerns currently engaging scholars outside of Asia and for a publisher like NUS Press, whose primary market lies in Asia, they have limited appeal. When referees in Asia indicate that the substance of a manuscript is well known within the country concerned, and that the  material is not pitched appropriately for Asian readers, our conclusion is that the author should probably seek publication opportunities elsewhere.

At the same time, more and more younger scholars from all parts of the world see social science research as a co-creation of knowledge. If they do Asian Studies they wish to speak to Asian audiences, and while their books and articles may reach readers in institutions around the world, they also become embedded in local discourse.

The book prizes mentioned at the start of this piece reflected a noticeable shift in the geography of publication of Asian studies. Whether this shift becomes a long-term trend remains to be seen, but the remarkable output of research by Asian scholars cannot be ignored, even if publishers are grappling with new forms of “publication” and new channels for delivering knowledge.

Peter Schoppert is Director and Paul Kratoska is Publishing Director at NUS Press

ICAS BOOK PRIZE 2015 Citations and Accolades August 3, 2015 12:00

At the 2015 International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS), in Adelaide, two NUS Press titles, shortlisted for the ICAS Book Awards, were given lovely citations by the judging committee. We were pleasantly surprised to be awarded the Ground Breaking Matter Accolade as well.

The Khmer Lands of VietnamShortlisted for the ICAS Book Prize 2015 for Best Study in the Social Sciences.
Philip Taylor, The Khmer Lands of Vietnam. Environment, Cosmology and Sovereignty
"A rich ethnography of in-between peoples in an in-between space, The Khmer Lands of Vietnam explores the life-worlds of the Khmer Krom community within and across state boundaries. By drawing on Khmer Krom cosmology and its relationship to ways of conceptualizing and adapting to a rapidly changing ecology in the lower-Mekong, Taylor locates a small community at the epicentre of a bold scholarly challenge to the ways sovereignty, displacement, and identity are commonly understood and studied. In doing so the book uncovers sacral and symbolic imaginaries in the mapping of territory, borders, and nation."

SIngapore and the Silk Road of the SeaShortlisted for the ICAS Book Prize 2015 for Best Study in the Humanities.
John N. Miksic, Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea 1300-1800.
"Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea 1300-1800, published by the National University of Singapore, is a ground-breaking study of Singapore and its role in the regional long-distance maritime trade during the pre-colonial period. An archaeological-historical study, it draws on a vast range of written and material sources (many uncovered by the author), to create new understandings of the past and indeed the present. Miksic presents a rich and detailed body of information concerning the economic and social history of the region and skilfully applies this to his analysis. In adopting the image of the “Silk Road” from Central Asian studies he provides an immediately comprehensible model that makes this work accessible to those from different disciplines and those seeking comparative insights. Personal recollections and biographical sketches enliven the narrative and the work is well-illustrated and presented. It is a work of lasting scholarship."

Ground-Breaking Matter Accolade 
Lynette J. Chua, Mobilizing Gay Singapore. Rights and Resistance in an Authoritarian State
"In a political climate known for paternalism and civic restrictions, Singapore’s gay activists pursue a pragmatic form of activism, often at significant personal cost. Pragmatism embeds activism in a cultural and legal context that requires challenge from within; a much less spectacular case to analyze but one that resonates deeply with social movements across Asia."


NUS Press attends ICAS Adelaide 2015 July 3, 2015 12:07

NUS Press is attending the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) in Adelaide, Australia from 5 to 9 July 2015. This biennial convention is the largest international gathering of scholars in the field of Asian Studies.

We are pleased to announce that two of our books – The Khmer Lands of Vietnam and Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea – have been shortlisted for ICAS Book Prize 2015.

NUS Press is also exhibiting our books at Booth 23. If you are in Adelaide, drop by Booth 23, browse our Southeast Asian books and learn more about NUS Press. We hope to see you.

Two NUS Press titles make the shortlist for ICAS Book Prize 2015 May 29, 2015 12:00

We are pleased to announce that two of our books – The Khmer Lands of Vietnam and Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea – have been shortlisted for the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) Book Prize 2015. The ICAS Book Prize is awarded biennially to outstanding English-language works in the field of Asian Studies. NUS Press will also be attending the convention held in Adelaide, Australia from 5 to 9 July 2015. Details of our booth will be announced closer to the date.

The Khmer Lands of Vietnam is shortlisted for the Best Study in the Social Sciences. This groundbreaking work by Philip Taylor uncovers the intricate lifestyle of the Khmer Krom who have to deal with their ambiguous political identities and adapt to living at the Mekong river delta. 

Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea has made the shortlist for the Best Study in the Humanities. In this book John N. Miksic synthesises 25 years of archaeological research to reconstruct the 14th-century port of Singapore in greater detail than is possible for any other early Southeast Asian city.

And please show your support by voting for your favourite title in the ICAS Colleagues' Choice Award. The poll will be open until 16 June 2015. We thank you for your enthusiasm and support for our books.