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In an interdisciplinary honors setting, especially at colleges and universities with minimal Asian studies offerings, teaching interdisciplinary Asian studies courses can present a particularly difficult challenge. The problem, as Charles Holcombe notes, is that “Asia is simply too enormous, spanning the better part of the entire Old World, and too diverse, to serve as a very meaningful label” (9). Unless students already have a background in Asian studies, have studied Asian languages and cultures, or are themselves from Asian countries, they often lack the basic, macro-level knowledge of geography, history, and politics necessary to address complex issues, particularly Orientalist stereotypes and jingoistic political rhetoric that the instructor may wish to address at the micro-level.
Teaching interdisciplinary Asian studies courses can also, however, present an exciting opportunity to address preconceptions about race, ethnicity, gender, and cultural personality for the very reason that they force us to re-think fundamental categories like “Asia” and “area” (Holmes; Cohen; Salter). In this article, I begin to address both the challenges and opportunities associated with infusing Asian studies into the honors curriculum through a review of three courses I have developed at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Honors College. In the second part of the article, I provide a sampling of resources available for faculty who wish to enhance their teaching of Asia either through individual study or through developing Asian studies at the institutional level. The latter discussion draws on my experience from 2007 to 2009 as a co-director of a U.S. Department of Education Title VI grant to develop Chinese language and area studies at UCA. In the institutional context, I will also touch upon UCA’s acquisition of a Confucius Institute, a primarily Chinese-government- funded program which, at UCA at least, has focused on facilitating Chinese language training in Arkansas public secondary schools. While UCA’s Asian studies programming is a work in progress, the university’s experience of essentially creating something from nothing—simply because faculty members have had a passion and interest in doing so—remains, I believe, a useful model for other institutions to enhance their own Asian studies offerings. In our honors college, a faculty line was created six years ago specifically to incorporate Asian studies and anthropology into the curriculum. The courses I describe in this essay are among the half dozen Asian studies courses taught by honors college faculty as part of their regular teaching duties. In this case, therefore, neither outside funding nor course release is necessary.