2018 Directors Letter by Dr. Mark Lycett

As I look back on my first year at Penn and look forward to a new four-year cycle as a National Resource Center for South Asia, I am enormously pleased with our accomplishments and excited by our prospects as we continue to expand and strengthen our curricular, scholarly, and public programs.

Our successful C.U. in India and Southeast Asia program fielded three new undergraduate courses last year, including The Performing Arts of Modern South Asia(Dr. Davesh Soneji, 2017-18 with travel to India); Sufis and Gods: Temples and Shrines of Southeast Asia(Dr. Terenjit Sevia, Spring 2018 with travel to Singapore and Malaysia); and Tech Innovation in India(Dr. Rashmi Kumar, Spring 2018 with travel to India).

We inaugurated our Summer Research Internship Placements in South Asia, in 2017, sending 13 Penn undergraduates to nine research placement sites in Sri Lanka (2), Nepal (2) and India (9).   For 2018, we have expanded to 11 sites, with new cooperative agreements for student placement with the French Institute of Pondicherry, the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, the Green Foundation, Bangalore, and The Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, Chennai.  We expect these opportunities to yield additional placements over the next two to three years as both knowledge of the program and funding for placements grows. We hope to link student opportunities to new and existing research collaborations engaging Penn faculty.  We believe this strategy will yield greater opportunities for both students and researchers.  

We are also continuing collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Penn Middle East Center. We are excited to welcome new Puitzer partners, Penn Abroad and Penn in Latin America and the Caribbean (PLAC) this year. SAC's 2018 recipient Nicole Brigstock, traveled to Nepal as a South Asia Center research intern and a Pulitzer Center student fellow.

Of course, we continue to sponsor and co-sponsor a wide variety of academic lectures, conferences, and community outreach events.  In 2017-18, more than 30 SAC events were held on campus.

In the past 18 months, we have significantly redesigned and expanded the South Asia Center’s outreach and public programs. In collaboration with partners on and off campus. SAC has been able to triple our capacity for K-12 student programs., including: the new South Asia Center Artist Residency program, teacher training workshops, our Summer Institute, and abroad opportunities for Philadelphia-area educators.

We have also continued to build our relationships with alumni, including our Alumni Mentorship program, which connects current students with alumni in South Asia; alumni mentorship and support for several of our new summer research internship; our Penn Alumni a Career Profile Series featuring alumni profiles on the Center website; and a growing alumni database.  

We are currently planning for initiatives, programs, and events that will engage faculty and students over the next four years.   We are especially excited by initiatives which provide scope for collaborative research, capacity-building, public education, and scholarly dissemination.  We hope to take advantage of the  interdisciplinary environment for research in South Asia at Penn, and to build research and teaching capacity both at home and abroad.


Among the themes we will explore are:

·     South Asia in Global knowledge Production.  This theme will coincide with the 70th anniversary of South Asian Studies at Penn and will allow us to explore comparative frameworks, diaspora studies, and global systems in relation to deep areal knowledge.  We plan to coordinate a series of events, speakers, and public programming exploring the impact of Penn in South Asia, as well as in the conception of area studies, international studies, and globalization. 


· Human Environments of South Asia. This initiative builds on Penn’s strengths in the environmental humanities and sciences and on a large number of relevant research projects involving Penn’s faculty and students.  We plan to sponsor events that highlight these strengths, while pursing capacity building with partners in South Asia.  


· Diversity, Identity, And Recognition. Building on the Islamic South Asia initiative (2014-18) and faculty strengths in SAST and Religious Studies, this theme explores the formation of religious, community, caste, and political identity in contemporary and historical settings.


· The City In South AsiaIn this theme, we explore the range of urban experience in South Asia as well as its urban pasts and futures. South Asia has both some of the world’s largest cities and an enormous range of settlement size and experience. Penn has well developed strengths in global urban studies within the Penn Urban Research Institute, and its programs including the Center for Globalization in an Urban World, Food Security in a Rapidly Urbanizing World, and the Humanities + Urbanism + Design Initiative. These programs complement South Asia specific faculty strengths in SAST and Anthropology, as well as PennDesign.


·     Health, Childhood, And The Lifespan. Building on earlier initiatives on Health and Society (2010-14) and STEM in South Asia (2014-18), this theme will explore the interrelations of health, nutrition, demography, education and policy. Taking advantage of Penn’s strengths in global health, demography, and education and faculty strengths in Public Health, Sociology, Anthropology, South Asian Studies, and Economics, we expect to contribute to a number of ongoing dialogs on campus and beyond.


Other themes we expect to support include digital resources for South Asian research, language pedagogy, media, arts, and performance studies.  

We also plan to support thematic and comparative efforts in Southeast Asia and in South Asian diaspora. We hope to  work with the growing number of scholars of Southeast Asia and South Asian diaspora in such settings as Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean to provide support for scholarly engagement and discussion.