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Frank Conlon conlon at
Sun Dec 1 17:49:55 UTC 1996

On Sun, 1 Dec 1996, Adi Hastings wrote:

> Actually, at least in the U.S., "pragmatic" concerns were a main reason
> for the development of area studies programs--essentially products of the
> cold-war. Area studies got a big boost from WW II and its aftermath, when
> the U.S. government put a lot of money into funding programs teaching
> about various areas of "vital national interest" (e.g., Eastern European
> and Soviet studies, South Asian studies, East Asian studies, etc.), and
> this included linguistic training, of course. In the academic geography of
> the U.S., various "centers" stand out as being particularly important for
> this-or-that areal program (for South Asia, e.g., Chicago, Berkeley, and
> others). Funding, especially governmental funding, is _never_ for purely
> "intellectual" concerns.

There is a small problem in this often repeated interpretation.  The area
studies interest generated by the Second World War, did not immediately
spawn any significant U.S. government support for South Asian  "area
studies."  The initial interest and support came in highly focussed and
donations from foundations.  The National Defense Education Act, (Title
VI) programs commenced at what might be termed a point of lower intensity
in the cold war.  It certainly is true that American scholars tried to
sell the idea of government support as being "in the national interest",
and in the late Eisenhower years, it was far easier to create new programs
if the word "defense" were added.  (Our interstate freeways were "national
defense highways.")  

At this distance in time, it is emotionally gratifying to some, to portray
the early years of area studies in America as purely a sinister extension
of the cold war and all that, and government support particularly to be
seen as a distorting and dangerous element.

I will try the patience of those on the list who have heard me invoke this
before, but to me the epitome of the "sinister" effects of U.S. government
policy lay in those NDEA fellowships whereby students at Adi Hasting's
institution could spend time studying erotic Bengali poetry with Ed
Dimock.  Now THAT clearly WAS in the national interest!!


Frank Conlon
University of Washington

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