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INSTITUTITIONAL NEWS Asian studies is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when considering Iceland. In fact, in the second half of the 20th century Iceland was too pre-occupied with its own European-American identity problem to be able to pay serious attention to a distant region such as Asia. But as Geir Sigurdsson, director of the recently opened Icelandic Centre for Asian Studies explains, the situation has changed rapidly during the last two decades. Forging links between distant lands ASÍS - The Icelandic Centre for Asian Studies Geir Sigurdsson D ue to the relative geographic isola- tion of Ultima Thule, the impact of globalisation has arguably been more tan- gible in Iceland than in most other Europe- an countries. Since the early 1990’s, there has been an explosion in trade, tourism and cultural exchanges between Iceland and Asian countries that only 30 years ago seemed almost unimaginable. This applies in particular to East Asia, i.e. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and not least the PRC, but also India and parts of Southeast Asia. Ice- land’s membership of EFTA brought a free- trade agreement with South Korea in 2006, and its non-membership of the EU enabled it to negotiate a bilateral agreement with major in East Asian studies. Through the the PRC, likely to take effect next year. This close partnership with Ningbo University will be China’s first free-trade agreement and the anticipated establishment of the with a European nation, and without a Northern Light Confucius Institute in Ice- doubt it will open up opportunities for Ice- land in 2008, Chinese studies is proving to landic enterprises. be a fast growing field of academic study and research in Iceland. New and distant partners Trade calls for exposure and communica- However, the Centre is also turning its tion and throughout history it has often attention towards South Asia and aiming to been the vehicle for closer cultural and per- establish a course in South Asian studies in sonal ties between remote areas. The case the near future at the University of Iceland. of Iceland and Asia is no exception. After This decision has been made with regard to Icelandic embassies opened in Beijing in the growing importance of the South Asian 1995 and Tokyo in 2001 a growing need region in world trade, politics and culture. was felt to facilitate the future generations’ An Icelandic embassy was opened in New increased understanding of the new and Delhi in 2006 and in early 2007 the Uni- distant partners. The breakthrough was versity of Iceland became a member of the made in 2003, when a programme in Japa- Nordic Centre in India. nese language and society was established at the University of Iceland with the support Since its foundation, ASÍS has been looking of the Japan Foundation. in particular towards the Nordic region for cooperation in Asian studies. The two state In December 2005, the two major Icelan- universities became members of the Nor- dic state universities, University of Ice- dic NIAS Council (NNC) in 2006, a consor- land and the University of Akureyri, jointly tium that provides direct access to the Nor- established the Icelandic Centre for Asian dic Institute of Asian studies and facilitates Studies (Asíuver Íslands – ASÍS). One of contact with the most important Scandina- the main objectives of ASÍS is to create vian educational institutions with a focus an environment - through lectures, con- on Asia. ASÍS, however, is also working with ferences, exhibitions and other events other European institutes, such as the Cen- - conducive to fostering interest in Asian tre of Oriental Studies at Vilnius University, studies and understanding of Asia-related Göran Malmqvist (Swedish Academy of Sci- Lithuania, and the Irish Institute of Chinese issues among both academics and the ences) and Mark Elvin (Australian National Studies at University College Cork, Ireland, general public in Iceland. Besides a series University). and is eager to construct further networks. of local events, ASÍS has co-organised two In the future, ASÍS is expected to serve as international conferences, the first on the Expanding the Asian Studies a networking resource for education and Mao Zedong era in China in collaboration curriculum information on the Asian region, and an with the Chinese Icelandic Culture Society ASÍS is also working towards an expansion all-inclusive communication centre for Ice- (KÍM), and the second on Asia-related gen- of the Asian studies curriculum at the two landic-Asian interactions. The importance der studies in collaboration with the Scan- state universities. Shortly after its estab- of the mission of ASÍS is acknowledged dinavian based Gendering Asia Network. It lishment, the first Chinese studies courses by some private enterprises in Iceland, is anticipated that the biannual conference were offered at the University of Akureyri, e.g. Glitnir Bank and Avion Group, both of of the Nordic Association of Chinese Stud- where the Centre’s main office was located which support its operations. ies will be held in Iceland under the Cen- in its initial phase. As of August 1st 2007, tre’s auspices in 2009. Several renowned the office was moved to the University of The current chair of ASÍS is Dr. Ingjaldur scholars and researchers have also visited Iceland in the capital, Reykjavik, though Hannibalsson (email@example.com) and director is and delivered lectures for ASÍS, including ASÍS still remains jointly operated by both Dr. Geir Sigurdsson (firstname.lastname@example.org). Geir Helgesen (Nordic Institute of Asian universities. The first fully-fledged Chinese http://www.hug.hi.is/page/asiuver Studies), Elaine Jeffreys (University of studies programme was then launched at Technology, Sydney), Mirja Juntunen (Nor- the University of Iceland in September 2007 dic Centre in India) and Chung-ying Cheng with the support of the Office of Chinese (University of Hawaii). Expected visitors Language Council International (Hanban). during the current academic year include A certain combination of Chinese studies Yuki Ishimatsu (UC Berkeley), Henry Rose- with the consistently growing Japanese lan- mont Jr. (St. Mary’s College of Maryland), guage and society programme makes up a IIAS NEWSLETTER #45 AUTUMN 2007 41
"ASÍS - The Icelandic Centre for Asian Studies"