At the dawn of the Second World War, universities in the United States had little in the way of "area" expertise for regions of the world outside North America and Europe. It was the war effort that led President Roosevelt to charge William Donovan with establishing an intelligence operation that resulted in the Research and Analysis Branch of the Office of Strategic Services. William Langer, a professor of Government at Harvard, recruited a variety of academics to serve on "area desks" to compile and analyze political, cultural, and social issues in regions including East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, as well as Europe (and specifically Germany) itself. Many of these academics went back to universities after the war with new forms of expertise to set up the area studies programs that were initially heavily funded by the government and major foundations. In this lecture I not only trace this history, but also discuss the implications for understanding the "strategic" nature of early area studies knowledge. I also raise questions about the subsequent relationship of area studies to the rise of interest in globalization in more recent years.
Nicholas Dirks is a professor of history and of anthropology at the, University of California, Berkeley, where he served as the 10th chancellor until mid-2017. An internationally renowned historian and anthropologist, he is the author or editor of seven books on India, the British empire, and social theory. A leader in higher education, he is also known for his commitment to and advocacy for accessible, high-quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences, to the globalization of the university, and to innovation across the disciplines.
Before coming to Berkeley, Dirks was the executive vice president for the arts and sciences and dean of the faculty at Columbia University, where, in addition to his work on behalf of undergraduate programs, he improved and diversified the faculty, putting special emphasis on interdisciplinary and international initiatives. The Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and History, Dirks joined Columbia in 1997 as chair of the anthropology department.
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