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A Hundred Harvests: The History of Asian Studies at Berkeley

South Asian Studies

During the last two hundred years, South Asian culture and civilization have become an important part of the American experience. From the earliest shipping ventures to current developments in international cooperation and trade; from 19th century fascination with "Orientalism," to the broad-spectrum university programs of the present-day, we have been involved with the cultural and socio-economic life of the subcontinent. The recent growth of the South Asian diaspora community in the United States, and their participation in higher education, creates a new dimension to South Asian studies -- the discovery of a rich part of our diverse American heritage.

South Asian studies has a long and distinguished history at Berkeley. Benjamin Ide Wheeler was himself a student of Sanskrit. Sanskrit was taught at Berkeley beginning in 1897 and in 1906 the first professorship in Sanskrit was created when celebrated scholar and translator, Arthur Ryder, joined the Berkeley faculty. South Asia related programs were gradually expanded in succeeding decades, but began in earnest in 1940 when Murray Barnson Emeneau came to Berkeley. He taught and conducted research in Sanskrit and Dravidian linguistics, and Indian ethnography and folklore. He was joined after the war by the great anthropologist David Mandelbaum and subsequently by a broad array of scholars working on the languages, literatures, history, art, music, politics, economy, peoples, and societies of the South Asian region, one of the most populous and diverse in the world.

Currently the University of California at Berkeley offers an extensive list of South Asian language and area courses distributed across a wide range of academic departments and groups in all areas of the humanities and social sciences, as well as in a variety of natural science programs and professional schools. Students may obtain degrees with a specialization in South Asian studies in numerous academic departments and interdisciplinary programs. The Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, founded in 1972, offers programs of both undergraduate and graduate instruction in the languages and civilizations of South and Southeast Asia from the most ancient period to the present. Today, throughout the University, thirty faculty members teach nearly fifty courses related to South Asia. Enrollment in South Asian courses has increased dramatically in the 1990's, due in part to the number of South Asian-American students studying at Berkeley and in part to the increasing importance of a global perspective in all disciplines.

In 1910 Henry Morse Stephens, a professor in the Department of History who had both professional and personal ties to South Asia, began a series of trips to England and India. During these trips he made extensive book purchases and in 1919 bequeathed his collection to the University Library, laying the foundation of the Berkeley's extensive holdings in the field of South Asia. A special endowment for the purchase of books on Asia, the Carpentier Fund established in 1919, was used to greatly expand these collections in subsequent years. The Library has maintained a commitment to collecting scholarly works necessary for research and teaching for South Asia, supporting numerous doctoral and post-doctoral programs in the social sciences and humanities. Current collecting encompasses a wide range of social science, science and humanities disciplines, with special strengths in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, and Nepali. 

The South/Southeast Asia Library Service

Berkeley's South/Southeast Asia Library Service, formerly known as the Reading Room of the joint Center for South and Southeast Asia Studies, was integrated into 438 Doe Library in September 1970. The Library has specialized collections in Nepal and the Himalayan region, maps of South Asia, the Hindustan Gadar Party, and Rudyard Kipling. The Krishnabai Nimbkar Collection is a 1955 gift of primary materials relating to India's National Congress Party.

S/SEALS functions as the designated reference and bibliographical center for research on a total of 18 South and Southeast Asian countries. It contains an extensive reference collection of over 3,500 items including national, general and specialized bibliographies, indexes, printed library catalogs, dictionaries, directories, other reference and bibliographical works, and provides full access to the library information system including local, regional, and international online catalogs, CD-ROM databases, and a gateway to worldwide web resources. The bulk of the South and Southeast Asia collections, over 400,000 titles, is housed in the Main Stacks and various specialized service points on the Berkeley campus. S/SEALS also maintains a non-circulating collection of monographs of current general interest, high-use newspapers, and journals to support research reference and information needs. S/SEALS offers 56 public service hours a week during regular semesters and about 20 hours during intersessions and summer sessions, not only to the Berkeley primary clientele but also to visitors coming from communities throughout California and the western United States. 

Center for South Asia Studies

In 1959 the Center for South Asia Studies was founded, with the assistance of a Ford Non-Western Area Grant, as an officially designated National Defense Education Act (NDEA) Language and Area Center dedicated to the scholarly study of South Asia comprising the nations of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and the Maldives. Tibet was originally included in South Asia, but responsibility for the Tibetan region was later transferred to the East Asia Center. In the early years the Center's efforts were concentrated on developing South Asia curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels, lobbying for personnel in the various disciplines, and spearheading the expansion of supportive language instruction. In 1973 the South Asia National Resource Center was established under Title VI of the Higher Education Act receiving full or partial support for programs such as Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships, an occasional papers monograph series, colloquia meetings, the India Press Digests project, the Asian Survey, the Himalayan Buddhist Manuscript Collection Project, the Buddhist Studies Program, the Nepal Resource Center, India's Gadar History Project, and the Group in Asian Studies.

The only resource center for South Asia studies in the state, CSAS provides active support for the teaching and research activities of South Asia-related faculty and the learning and research activities of their students; develops financial resources for the enhancement of South Asia studies; encourages interdisciplinary, regional, and comparative studies of South Asia; creates outreach programs in coordination with other institutions of primary, secondary, and post-secondary education; and, supports cultural and community activities relating to South Asia and South Asians. CSAS strives to accomplish its principal objective through the organization and hosting of a variety of scholarly events, including lectures, colloquia, seminars, research conferences, the bringing to campus of a variety of research specialists, the initiation and administration of research projects, and the publication of research books and monographs on various aspects of South Asian studies.

The University of California, Berkeley, initiated the Berkeley Professional Studies Program in India (BPSI), funded by a Fulbright Hayes grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and sent it first group of graduate students on the program in 1967-68. The program was designed for American graduate students with professional interests to do research internships in an international setting. Over the span of BPSI's 28 years, 274 students participated in the program, doing field work and research of their own design under the mentorship of Indian faculty and professionals. Study topics included village justice systems, women's rights issues, literacy programs, self-esteem in adolescent girls, rural banking, rural health programs, and alternative energy sources. BPSI maintained an office and staff in New Delhi from 1967 until the program closed in 1996. More compelling than the program's historical data, however, is the profound impact it had on the lives and careers of young American graduate students. Ties were established between Indian and American professionals that continued for decades. Career paths have often been indelibly changed as a result of the year in India. The "Berkeley Program" provided rich learning experiences for the participants, faculty, and staff. This wealth of experience continues to increase as it is shared with others in professional settings and through personal communication. 

The Berkeley Urdu Language Program in Pakistan (BULPIP) was founded in 1973. Its purpose is to provide intensive and specialized Urdu language training to American students, scholars, and teachers who have research and professional interests in Pakistan, Islam, the Muslim communities of South Asia, and Urdu language and literature. It is the only educational program run by an American institution in Pakistan. The academic program of BULPIP provides thirty weeks of Urdu instruction at the program center in Lahore, Pakistan. In addition to the academic program, BULPIP fosters cultural understanding through housing students with Pakistani families and through field trips within Pakistan.

Showing great foresight, the Center for South Asia Studies began an effort in 1990 to establish endowed chairs to insure the future of South Asian studies at Berkeley. The success of their efforts can be seen in three new endowed chairs established through tremendous outpouring of support from the South Asian-American community, not only in the Bay Area, but across the country. 

The Sarah Kailath Chair in India Studies was established by Thomas Kailath, and Vinita and Narendra Gupta in honor of Dr. Kailath's wife, Sarah Kailath, to enhance awareness and knowledge of issues relating to the Indian subcontinent. The current chairholder is Robert P. Goldman, Professor of Sanscrit in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies. 

With assistance from the Consulate General of India, San Francisco, the Center also conducted a campaign to raise endowment funds from the Indo-American community resulting in the Indo-American Community Chair in India Studies. Inaugural lectures for both the Sarah Kailath Chair in India Studies and the Indo-American Community Chair in India Studies were delivered by former Ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Nobel Laureate physicist, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.