The earliest Rutgers ties with East Asia date back to the 1860’s when Japanese students first came to study in New Brunswick, dispatched by the Meiji reformist government to pursue studies in western science and other academic disciplines at the Rutgers campus. By the 1960’s, with the establishment of the Chinese language program, East Asia had become a focused area of studies at Rutgers.
Today Rutgers students can study the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages through the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. The department offers majors in Chinese and in East Asian Languages and Area Studies with a concentration in China, Japan, or Korea, and offers minors in the languages of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, as well as in Asian Studies. East Asia is also the focus of courses and research offered by Asian Studies faculty in many other departments and programs in the School of Arts and Sciences, from Anthropology to Art History and History, to Religion and Women’s and Gender Studies. The popularity of the new Global East Asia Signature course has also revealed students’ strong interest in the region.
Other Schools at Rutgers such as the Rutgers Business School, the Graduate School of Education, and the School of Public Affairs and Administration also have active programs and initiatives focused on East Asia. In addition, the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) has recently developed a series of China initiatives providing exciting East Asia related opportunities for students. Undergraduate students in China earn dual degrees in Environmental Sciences at Rutgers with the first two years spent in their home institution, and the second two years spent at Rutgers.
Rutgers students have many options to expand their experience with the cultures and languages of East Asia in addition to academic course work. The East Asian House on the Douglass Campus offers a residential experience for students interested in combining the study of East Asian languages and regional cultures. Many students take advantage of Rutgers’ study abroad programs in China, Japan, and South Korea to spend a summer, a semester, or a whole year at universities in those countries, including Jilin University in China, Ritsumeikan University in Japan, and Ewha University in South Korea. The Department of Political Science also has a very successful undergraduate study abroad program in Kyoto, Japan. The exchange programs are reciprocal - students from East Asia currently make up more than 40 percent of all international students studying at Rutgers.
Research and study of East Asia is also well supported by the East Asian Library at Rutgers. Established in 1970, the library has about 140,000 volumes of books and bound periodicals in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, the second largest East Asian collection of any public university in the Northeast. Rutgers University Libraries also hold a few special collections relating to East Asia, among them are the papers of William Elliot Griffis (1843-1928). An early American specialist on Japan, Griffis documents the experiences of Westerners in Japan and the history of U.S.-Japan relations, and includes historical photos and other materials relevant to the history of Korea and China as well.
In recent years, the university has undertaken many new initiatives to expand study and teaching about the region. In 2007, Rutgers opened its Confucius Institute in partnership with China's Jilin University to promote the study of Chinese language and culture and to serve as a resource center on China for New Jersey. Also in 2007, Rutgers won a grant from the Freeman Foundation to launch the Rutgers University K-12 Chinese Teacher Training Initiative, a project that aims to increase the number of certified teachers of the Chinese language in elementary through high school. This teacher-training initiative comes in addition to the Rutgers Multimedia Chinese Teaching System, which offers an award-winning online course on Chinese language from beginner to advanced levels.
Rutgers’ engagement with China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea reflects the broad links that exist between the State of New Jersey and the western edge of the Pacific Rim. New Jersey has one of the largest Asian American populations in the U.S. and many businesses in New Jersey have strong ties to East Asia. In fact, Japan, China, and Korea rank 4th, 6th and 8th among the top ten markets for New Jersey’s export activity. East Asia’s Jersey connection is strong at Rutgers, whose global reach across the Pacific will continue to expand and strengthen long into the 21st century.
South Asia is a diverse and multifaceted region, which has been at the center of global trade and cultural exchange for centuries, making it integral to the study of the contemporary and complex connections between nature, society, politics, culture, and religion globally. Indeed, it is not only home to one-quarter of the world’s people, the region is also increasingly important in international politics, economics, and business. Further highlighting these complex connections and Rutgers’ “Jersey Roots, Global Reach,” the area surrounding Rutgers–New Brunswick has one of the largest and densest South Asian populations in the US. This diaspora adds to the diversity and richness of the Rutgers’ student body, faculty, and staff.
To complement this diversity and the interconnectedness of the region, the range of study of South Asia is necessarily broad, covering politics, geography, anthropology, economics, languages, cultures, literatures, and the natural environment. Students and faculty researching the region are able to use Rutgers’ connections with universities and institutions from India to Nepal to explore topics in development, agriculture, international policy, language, literature, and macroeconomic issues, among many others.
Rutgers’ involvement in South Asia is anchored by the university’s South Asian Studies Program (SASP), which defines the geographic region as including the countries of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The SASP, anchored with a diverse faculty, promotes its study through an interdisciplinary set of courses, speakers’ series, public events and conferences. The SASP offers a minor in South Asian Studies giving undergraduate students the chance to study South Asian history, geography, economics, languages, and gender. Along with the SASP, many major South Asian languages are now offered through the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures (AMESALL). Courses not only study the specifics of language, but also the literature and culture of the region giving students a broad understanding of South Asian life. The Rutgers South Asia Library collection also continues to expand as a resource for students and faculty studying the region.
Rutgers has research strengths in many parts of South Asia. For instance, faculty in the Department of Anthropology work on issues of gender, kinship, and marriage in Nepal. However, Rutgers and the SASP have exceptional research representation in South Asia’s largest country, India. In the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS), faculty in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics focus on agricultural economics and U.S. lentil distribution in Sri Lanka.
Rutgers recently applied and was accepted to the Institute of International Education International Academic Partnership Program for India (IAPP). Involvement in the IAPP will assist Rutgers in identifying universities in India that may be potential partners for academic exchange and collaboration, joint research projects, dual degree and study abroad programs, and will broaden and enhance Rutgers’ thriving programs and initiatives in South Asian studies.
The School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) is proud of its strong research and agricultural extension in Southeast Asia. Mark Robson, professor and extension specialist in Entomology, and dean of the Agricultural and Urban Program, has a longstanding commitment to Thailand. Robson is a specialist in exposure science and pesticide use, primarily in developing countries. He has also conducted research extensively on the public health implications and health policies related to the use of pesticides. He is the only foreigner to have received an honorary degree from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, the top university in Thailand. The degree was presented to Robson by the princess of Thailand during a three day celebration.