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Northwestern University

A View to the East

The new Department of Asian Languages and Cultures focuses on the rich literary traditions of Asia

Northwestern students fascinated by Asian culture and literature will soon enjoy a wider array of opportunities to explore the field.

The newly created Department of Asian Languages and Cultures will open a variety of new paths of study at the University. Students may explore a single Asian culture in depth or compare traditions across Asia and consider them in relation to those of other regions through the lens of text, image and discourse.

“It’s very exciting to create and grow this department at Northwestern,” said Paola Zamperini, an associate professor of late imperial Chinese literature who joined Weinberg College in July to serve as the department’s inaugural chair. “It’s a great opportunity to expand the culture of the College and the University, as well as the field of Asian literary and cultural studies in the United States.”

Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean studies will form the core of the new department. “In time, we hope to include more of the South Asian countries, because South Asia is both immense and immensely relevant within Asia and globally,” Zamperini noted.

The department will be built on the University’s existing strengths in collaboration with faculty in departments such as History, Religious Studies and Political Science, as well as Art History, Comparative Literatures and English. Many of these professors have been working closely with Weinberg College Dean Sarah Mangelsdorf since 2008 to lay the groundwork for the new department, which Zamperini says would not exist without their support.

The College will add eight new tenure-track professors to work with these colleagues to build the new department. Laura Brueck, an associate professor of contemporary Hindi literature, and Phyllis Lyons, an associate professor of Japanese literature, have joined Zamperini to launch the new department. Experts in subjects such as modern Chinese literature, Korean and South Asian literature and performance/cultural studies will join the department over the next several years.

The new department complements but does not replace the College’s long-standing Asian Studies Program (formerly the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Program). Founded in 1990, the Asian Studies Program is an interdisciplinary undergraduate program through which students can learn in depth about a chosen area of Asia. Students study a relevant language and pursue courses in history, social science and humanities.

The new Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, meanwhile, emphasizes language and literary studies, much as the College’s other language departments do. As in those departments, the notion of literary studies has grown to encompass elite and popular literature, film and media, as well as cultural and performance studies. The relationship between the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and the Asian Studies Program is thus similar to that between the English Department and the American Studies Program.

“These students will have the same critical language abilities as their peers who study subjects such as English, French, Italian, German, and Classics,” Zamperini says. “They will be truly well-rounded students with a strong background in the humanities.”

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