East-West Center Graduate Students Inaugurate First Annual Conference

Join with Participants from Twenty Universities to Discuss Research

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Nathan Camp,
EWC Education Council Co-Chair
Posted: Feb 26, 2002

Last weekend marked another milestone for East-West Center (EWC) degree students. The first annual EWC International Graduate Student Conference took place between February 21st and 23rd at the Imin Conference Center. By all accounts, it was a resounding success.

Approximately 70 graduate students from over 20 universities in the Pacific, Asia, and the U.S. mainland joined East-West Center degree students and other graduate students from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Complete with paper presentations and discussions, research displays and a renowned keynote speaker, the first such international undertaking for graduate students in Hawai'i exceeded many expectations.

For years, East-West Center students had run a local, in-house conference with modest ambitions while also organizing the East-West Fest, a well-known event highlighting the character and diversity of the EWC's student body. This year, in addition to organizing the Fest, the students made an extra effort to share their scholarly abilities with an international audience.

In addition to a poster and video display session, the conference members presented papers in sixteen panels, covering a variety of topics related to the Pacific and Asia. Panels were moderated by professors from UH and researchers at the East-West Center. Scholars addressed subjects as wide-ranging as Indian-American beauty pageants, a gendered peace museum in Okinawa, ethnic discourse in Sulawesi, and the future global management of fisheries.

Transnationalism and the formation of cultural identity were both hot topics in the conference, as participants and guests debated a range of issues relating to the general theme, "Local/Global Relations in the Asia Pacific Region." Conference attendees showed energy and ingenuity in tackling topics in a cross-disciplinary manner. Discussion circled around the powers of performance, diaspora and ideology as participants drew from expertise in disciplines such as cultural studies, political science, philosophy, history and religion.

Prasenjit Duara, Professor of History and East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago set the tone when he offered an engaging look at the long history of transnationalism in his keynote address. Describing the character of Chinese involvement with the world over the centuries, Duara suggested three broad eras of globalization. The first was an imperial tribute system, in which sovereignty and political relations with other polities were enacted through the ritual offering of tribute. This was replaced in more recent times by the territorially defined nation-state. Finally, Duara suggested that the post-Cold War era presents China with a globalized world in which a more deterritorialized version of nationalism - based on cultural aspects rather than land - is coming to dominate.

By the end of the conference, organizers had garnered praise from all corners. UH students were duly impressed. Participants from Berkeley, Chicago, China, and New Zealand returned to their home institutions intellectually fulfilled. A few participants from off-island were heard claiming this was the best conference they had ever attended. Given the many months of planning and hard work that went into the conference, hopes were high for the first EWC International Graduate Student Conference. Organizers knew that this first incarnation would set the standard for future conferences to come. By the time it was over, ideas had been debated and refined, new interests had been cultivated, connections had been made, and the hopes of many had been fully realized.