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Celebrating 50 years of the

South Asia Conference of the Pacific Northwest

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For its 50th anniversary year, the South Asia Conference of the Pacific Northwest (SACPAN) challenged its presenters to think seriously about the theme “The Intellectual Chimera of South Asia: Interdisciplinary Questions about Area Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences.” In a world in which geographical, geopolitical, economic, cultural, and social boundaries are constantly in flux, what is the ongoing relevance and importance of studying South Asia? Do these changes require new ways of thinking about South Asia as a region, the responsibility of area studies to discuss regional topics in broader ways, and a renegotiation of our vocabularies and imaginaries?

During the afternoon of Friday, February 10th and the day of Saturday, February 11th, student and faculty presenters from across the Pacific Northwest region, including from the University of Washington, the University of Oregon, the Evergreen State College, and other institutions, explored the geographical and intellectual boundaries of South Asia through skilled and thoughtful projects on topics related to literature, politics, media, gender, race, and caste studies, environmental studies, and history. [see the full schedule here -link to http://southasia.washington.edu/sacpan-schedule/] “South Asia” as an area was pushed beyond the boundaries of nation and geography as presenters worked around themes of transnational and interdisciplinary perspectives that reimagined the area in new forms. Could “South Asia” be articulated through a poetic landscape of shared love for multilingual poets whose work speaks both to the Hindustani culture of South Asia and the Persian literary culture of Iran? Could it be articulated through an ancient network of inscriptions stretching from India to Rome? Could it be articulated through a shared world of political alignments signified by the fashion of “fezzes, boots, and Turkish frock-coats” that connected South Asia to a broader cultural landscape? Could it be articulated through the digital world of female comedians discussing gender issues in Hindi and English, speaking not just to viewers in the region but to a transnational network of digital viewers? Throughout the conference’s formal panels and through shared meals and social hours, SACPAN presenters and attendees grappled with these many complicated questions. Thoughtful questions by audience members provided new intellectual pathways for attendees to take in thinking about the ongoing relevance and importance of South Asian area studies, and encouraged all to think about how “South Asia” as a category could be applied to different studies and pedagogical techniques in a multitude of disciplines.  

SACPAN was also honored by the attendance of several founders of the first conference at the University of British Columbia in 1966—including Dr. Paul R. Brass. Another original attendee, Dr. Peter Harnetty of UBC was prevented from attending due to a snowstorm in Vancouver. Other long time attendees of SACPAN included Dr. Frank Conlon, Dr. Michael Shapiro and Dr. John Wood. The presence and thoughtful remembrances of these founding faculty, who brought a serious engagement of interdisciplinary issues related to South Asia to the Pacific Northwest region, were an important reminder both of the origins of South Asian area studies, its enduring importance in the intellectual landscape, and the new frontiers with which it will engage in the coming decades. [read more about the history of SACPAN here – http://southasia.washington.edu/sacpanhistory/]