Professor Tansen Sen on NYU Shanghai’s Center for Global Asia

Professor Tansen Sen on NYU Shanghai’s Center for Global Asia

Since 2015, NYU Shanghai’s Center for Global Asia has brought together researchers, scholars, and students to investigate the study of Asia in the international hub of Shanghai. Director of the Center, and Professor of History Tansen Sen sat down to talk with us about the Center’s history, future goals, and some of the exciting projects and collaborations they’re working on.

In the 8 years since the founding, what has the Center’s mission been? What are some of your goals for the Center?

We think that the idea of Asia pertains to not only the physical place that is the Asian continent, but also the entanglement of Asian people, objects, and ideas from the region with different parts of the globe. Since the Center’s establishment, we have been engaged in a number of events and research projects that relate to this broader conceptualization of Asia. We have hosted annual conferences, organized lecture series and webinars, developed courses and international summer schools for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, recruited postdoctoral fellows and invited renowned visitors, such as the novelist Amitav Ghosh, and received prestigious research grants.

2018 Indian Ocean Summer School participants at China Maritime Museum, Shanghai, China. Photo by Yiyun Chen

Who makes up the Center? Who do you find yourself collaborating with?

I am a historian and the director of the Center, and we have about fifteen additional affiliated faculty from the Humanities, Social Sciences, Global China Studies, and Interactive Media Arts programs at NYU Shanghai. We currently have three postdoctoral fellows, and sometimes also host doctoral fellows. We also have visiting scholars who come from institutions around the world. We regularly hire undergraduate interns from NYU Shanghai and other universities in China to work on our database projects and help organize our diverse events. Two staff members oversee the management of the Center’s activities, collaborations, and fellows. In addition, we collaborate with NYU and NYU Abu Dhabi; we have also developed strong networks with other institutions, both locally and internationally, which I view as one of the biggest strengths of the Center. In particular, we have collaborated with Tsinghua University, Peking University, Fudan University, Harvard-Yenching Institute, and universities in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Germany.

On May 10, 2016 at NYU Shanghai, Professor Joanna Waley-Cohen, Provost for NYU Shanghai and Professor Jin Guangyao, Director of Asia Research Center at Fudan University, signed the memorandum on behalf of Asia Research Center (ARC) at Fudan University and The Center for Global Asia (CGA), respectively, to promote the field of Asian Studies in China. Photo by CGA staff

What major projects is the Center undertaking right now? How do you engage and collaborate with other NYU campuses around the world?

In 2018, the Global Asia Studies centers at NYU, NYU Abu Dhabi, and NYU Shanghai received a three-year grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to study “Port City Environments in Global Asia.” NYU Shanghai’s project has focused on the examination of Indian Ocean port cities and coastal regions. We have organized workshops and published essays that have explored the internal dynamics and external connections of Indian Ocean port cities. More recently, after the grant was renewed for another three years, we have been studying the environmental impact of infrastructure development projects on port cities and coastal communities. One of our key research undertakings is on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Asia and Africa. In collaboration with researchers from the University of Virginia and Hong Kong University, we are working on a database project that includes collecting publication data, creating timelines, and interviewing various stakeholders within and beyond China.

CGA Annual Conference 2017. Photo by CGA staff
CGA Dialogues | Where is Home? A Conversation with Wang Gungwu, Zoom Webinar Event on Jan 28, 2022. Screenshot by Haozhe Li

What are you looking forward to in the Center’s future?

As we enter into the second decade of NYU Shanghai, I am looking forward to our Center focusing even more on research output, database development, and curricular integration. Additionally, the past two years of the pandemic have forced us to use digital platforms and engage with global audiences through virtual events. The Center currently manages two academic journals and contributes to one of the largest circulating academic newsletters. We plan to expand into Chinese-language publications in the next decade. In the next two or three years we hope to complete our three ongoing database projects. These projects are on Asian Studies in China, the Belt and Road Initiative, and China-India interactions. With faculty from the Social Sciences and Humanities programs at NYU Shanghai we are trying to develop a graduate program in Global Studies; and with our partners in Abu Dhabi and New York we are discussing ways to introduce a Global Asia track within NYU Abu Dhabi’s planned PhD program in Global Crossroads. To expand our global presence and outreach we will be co-organizing two international conferences in Singapore in 2023. The first will be the inaugural biennial conference on China-India studies and second will focus on maritime heritage in the Indian Ocean world. Also in 2023, pending our grant application, we hope to organize a conference on “Asia and the Mediterranean World” at NYU Florence. We are also looking into developing our digital humanities scholarship further (like in this VR Gallery). At the new Qiantan campus, we will have a CGA Digital Heritage Lab where we hope to develop resources to do various kinds of story maps, offer workshops, and create platforms to present research visually that will attract more general audiences and involve students in accessible ways.


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Postdoctoral Fellow Adhira Mangalagiri: Navigating Transnational Thoughts Through Literature

Postdoctoral Fellow Adhira Mangalagiri: Navigating Transnational Thoughts Through Literature

In 2021, Dr. Adhira Mangalagiri, Lecturer in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary University of London, embarked on a new phase of her research journey by joining NYU Shanghai’s Center for Global Asia (CGA) as a Postdoctoral Fellow. CGA promotes the study of Asian interactions and comparisons and encourages the examination of Asia’s connections with the wider world, which echoes Mangalagiri’s research specialization in Chinese and Hindi/Urdu literatures to a large extent. 

After finishing her one-year fellowship, Mangalagiri has returned to Queen Mary, continuing her research, writing and teaching career. Recently she shared her experience and learnings from this NYU Shanghai journey. 

What attracted you to come to NYU Shanghai and particularly the Center for Global Asia for your postdoctoral research? 

CGA has great appeal to me. In addition to its focus on Asia’s connectedness with the wider world, CGA has significantly contributed to the growth and development of intra-Asian research. Over the past years, CGA has served as an important hub in intra-Asian studies. 

CGA especially facilitates research in Asia and has forged close relationships to academic spheres across China, India, and other parts of Asia. NYU Shanghai proved the ideal base from which to explore such connections, which are all the more urgent given the growing distance between the Chinese and Anglo-American academic worlds. 

Could you share with us how the resources and environment provided by the CGA at NYU Shanghai facilitate your research and study? 

During my fellowship, I greatly benefited from participating in CGA’s program of talks and seminars, which brought leading scholars to NYU Shanghai to discuss their recent projects and publications. I’ve also been able to connect with colleagues in my field and Ph.D. students based in China, which allowed me to gain an understanding of recent developments in Chinese academia. Meanwhile, I also got the chance to exchange ideas with the wider community at NYU Shanghai. These connections undoubtedly enriched my research. 

Director of the Center for Global Asia, Professor of History Tansen Sen was my faculty advisor at NYU Shanghai. During the one year in Shanghai, I brought my first book to completion, and Tansen has offered invaluable support and mentorship throughout the process. Our conversations and collaborations have continued even after my fellowship here. We’ve recently brought a co-edited project to completion (a special issue of the International Journal of Asian Studies on “Methods in China-India Studies,” the introduction of which is available via Open Access) and are beginning new projects.  

What first drew you to dig into Chinese and Hindi/Urdu literatures? Why did you choose Comparative Literature as your field of study? 

Reading the literatures of China and India together can teach us so much about how to think across national borders and how to navigate the forms of conceptual insularity that can impede transnational thought. My research studies and extends the long intellectual history of pairing ideas of China and India together. My interest in this history stems from my own experiences of growing up in both China and India. 

Comparative Literature brings together two values that drive my teaching and research. First, I strongly believe in the importance of literature and literary criticism. Universities and funding bodies often require scholars in literary studies to state the value of their work in terms of various rubrics of instrumentality. For me, the importance of literary scholarship lies in its ability to articulate its importance precisely by interrogating the very ideas of “value” and “usefulness” that literary work is so often subject to. Second, Comparative Literature brings multilingual practice to the fore. Beyond the ability to conduct research in multiple languages and literary traditions, multilingualism also demands an attentiveness to different cultures and ways of being in the world.

Could you talk about your current research interests and recent projects? 

My first book, States of Disconnect: The China-India Literary Relation in the Twentieth Century (Columbia UP, 2023), takes on a conceptual challenge currently facing Comparative Literature, namely, the inability of the discipline’s globalized habits of thought to fully apprehend the growing national insularity of our current world. How can comparison attend to the failures of global visions of a happily interconnected world 

and, at the same time, confront the narrow and exclusionary idiom of present-day national belonging? States of Disconnect takes up this question through the case of China-India comparison. 

I am also currently working on a second project that studies literary experiments with time in trans-Asian literatures, from early twentieth-century modernist explorations of non-linear, fragmented temporalities, to contemporary ecocritical writings on foreclosed and inaccessible futures.

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邮箱:shanghai.cga@nyu.edu

电话:+86 (21) 20595043

微信公众号:NYUShanghaiCGA

地址:

上海市浦东新区杨思西路567号

W822室

© 2023 All Rights Reserved