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Harvard plans to launch Thai studies initiative

May 20. 2012
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By Rattana Promrak
Special to Th

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Prof Michael Herzfeld proposes $6m fundraising move

 

Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, has launched a Thai Studies Initiative in an attempt to expand knowledge and research about Thailand among the local and international academic community. 
Harvard is looking to raise $6 million in funds to support this programme.
Michael Herzfeld, a Professor of anthropology at Harvard, who is spearheading the initiative, said the Thai Foreign Ministry has given a grant for an initial year with the possibility of renewal for a further year as seed money to jump start Thai studies at Harvard. 
The grant from the ministry will support lectures and Thai language instruction at Harvard. 
On April 18, Thai Studies at Harvard was launched with an inaugural lecture on “Thailand at Harvard.” Dr Komatra Chueng-satiansup, who is director of the Society and Health Institute at the Ministry of Public Heath, addressed the topic of “After the Flood: Reaction, Relief, and Recovery in Thailand.” A series of lectures is scheduled in the coming months.
The targeted $6 million in funds will enable the programme to provide Thai language instruction; fund a chair (professorship) of Thai studies; and host seminars, workshops, lectures, and a film series focusing on Thailand. 
Harvard University has an extensive engagement with Asian studies. This includes the Fairbank Centre for Chinese Studies, founded in 1955, one of the world’s leading centres for the study of China, the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, founded in 1973, and the Korea Institute, founded in 1981. Harvard’s Sackler Museum also has one of the world’s largest and most important collections of Thai illustrated manuscripts, and many other works of Thai art, but there is no academic forum for Thai studies in the university.
“Given the fact that there is a long symbolic association between Harvard and Thailand, it is quite shocking that Harvard and across the university doesn’t have Thai studies. Having been involved in research about Thailand myself, I decided it was high time to take action,” Prof Herzfeld said.
In order to achieve these goals, talks have been underway to explore sources of funding from potential donors, both corporate and individual, who have strong interests in Thailand. These include American companies investing in Thailand.
Prof Herzfeld emphasised it |was crucial to establish a Thai |programme in perpetuity at Harvard. He maintains the only way to do so was to create a dedicated professorship and a dedicated programme of Thai language instruction, and seminars and lectures on Thailand across the entire university. These facilities would provide resources for people in the community who have interests in working in, or doing research about Thailand.
According to the plan, the chair of Thai studies would be open to researchers on Thailand from any academic discipline. This would be a tenured position for a senior professor and would have a title that includes the name of the chair. The incumbent could be of any nationality. 
Traditionally, Harvard will take into consideration the honouring of some person or institution proposed by a donor when naming such a chair.
Harvard University is ranked number one of the top 100 universities by reputation in 2012 as listed by The Times Higher Education and Thomas Reuters. 

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