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Release: August 9, 1999

UI wins $350,000 grant to expand studies of foreign areas

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa has won a three-year, $350,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to expand and continue its "Crossing Borders" program, designed to help professors and graduate students who are already prepared to study one international culture to broaden their research and intellectual interests to include a second area. The UI is one of only 18 U.S. institutions selected by the Ford Foundation to receive one of these three-year grants.

In the past, many scholars who studied foreign languages and culture tended to focus on a single area. But in the post-Cold War era, social and cultural information as well as powerful images and streams of tourists and migrants flow more freely from one nation to another, and scholars need to broaden their studies to look at the ways in which local and national societies are affected by the influences of surrounding and even distant nations.

"The Crossing Borders Grant provides an opportunity to rethink the ways in which scholars approach the study of 'areas' and the nature of graduate training required for undertaking contemporary area studies," said Michael McNulty, UI associate provost and dean of International Programs. "The Ford Foundation grant challenges institutions to find ways to 'revitalize Area Studies' and to do so in a manner that might serve as a model for other schools. I believe that Paul Greenough, the pilot project director, and his colleagues have proposed an exciting and thoughtful program in response to that challenge."

Interdisciplinary work will be at the heart of all UI Crossing Borders research and training programs, with professors and graduate students from anthropology, cinema and comparative literature, geography, history, and political science participating, McNulty said.

"The Crossing Borders logic that underlies the Ford grant is very well suited to the University of Iowa -- emphasizing the interdisciplinary and international nature of research questions and encouraging work by multidisciplinary teams of students and faculty," he said.

The Ford Foundation grant to the UI is being matched by more than $650,000--principally in the form of graduate assistantships for 20 students--from the Graduate College, the College of Liberal Arts and UI International Programs. UI faculty members involved in planning the graduate training part of the project include: Ken Cmiel (history), Virginia Dominguez (anthropology),

Vicki Hesli (political science), Rebecca Roberts (geography), and Steven Ungar (cinema and comparative literature), and Deans McNulty, Raul Curto (Liberal Arts), Elizabeth Swanson (International Programs), and Sandra Barkan (Graduate College).

The UI began its "Crossing Borders" project in 1997 with an initial grant of $50,000 from the Ford Foundation. The UI focused on bringing together South Asian studies and African studies scholars to study the ways in which Indian and East African peoples and cultures have influenced each other across the Indian Ocean.

The next phase of the project will continue in this vein with cross-area and interdisciplinary graduate training, seminars, and conferences. Faculty members and graduate students will travel to India and East Africa to study the inter-cultural influences and migrations firsthand and to meet with professors there.

A new aspect of the Crossing Borders project will include the United States in the concept of "area studies," acknowledging the efforts of scholars around the world who pursue American Studies. Some of those American Studies scholars, including two from Hyderabad, India, will visit the UI as part of its annual International Forum for United States Studies program during the spring 2000 semester. Dominguez and UI professor Jane Desmond (American studies) will direct this portion of the Crossing Borders project.

Finally, UI professor Michaeline Crichlow (African-American World Studies) will contribute to the project by examining ways in which Indian and African culture is preserved and altered among Caribbean settlers from those areas. She and her students will examine what happens to cultural identity when people are moved under the sway of global capitalism to strikingly different locations. Crichlow and her students will collaborate with researchers in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Haiti to study topics related to the African-Indian diasporas in the Caribbean.

"Crossing Borders phase one demonstrated that there is on our campus a sizable but pent up interest among the internationalist faculty to retrain themselves in aspects of foreign areas that connect with expertise they have already acquired," said Greenough, a UI professor of history and South Asian specialist. "It also demonstrated that graduate students in certain disciplines like history, geography, and anthropology are already out ahead of the faculty in identifying important issues of culture, politics and economics that arise at the borders or frontiers between adjacent nations, peoples or ecologies."

"Stage two is very ambitious in terms of its educational goals," Greenough said. "The Ford Foundation supported pilot project envisions a new kind of organized graduate training in international studies, one in which students learn two research languages, benefit from a number of new graduate courses, get to travel with faculty and on their own to a series of sites in linked foreign settings, and eventually develop dissertation proposals that will depend on those languages, courses and travels. While such research has happened here and there before, no university has attempted to train students to do it systematically."

For more information, contact Greenough at (319) 335-2222 or (319) 335-2825.