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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

U.S.-Japan Network: UNCP Asian scholar turning fellowship into action

Too often an overlooked superpower, Japan’s image needs a revival, according to scholars like UNC Pembroke’s Dr. Annika Culver.

Annika CulverDr. Culver, who is coordinator of UNCP’s Asian Studies Program, lists the reasons: “Japan has the world’s third largest economy; they are strategically important to U.S. interests; and they are on the front line of world relief efforts.

“With the recent ‘Asian pivot’ in U.S. foreign policy, Japan’s role as a key partner is more important than ever in triangular relations with China,” she said.

Dr. Culver is a new generation Japan scholar and a fellow of the U.S.-Japan Network for the Future, a project of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. With a cohort of scholars, she has been meeting with ambassadors and representatives from the Pentagon, trade groups, Congress, Senate and NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

“I am very honored to be part of the U.S.-Japan Network,” Dr. Culver said. “It is a great program that is infused with learning.”

Dr. Culver has been making the most of her two-year appointment, which expires in 2014, attending conferences and meetings in Washington, D.C., Asia and elsewhere. She is also having an impact on UNCP’s campus.

Dr. Culver has worked to infuse UNCP with Japanese resources and culture. With three grants from the Nippon Foundation, Association for Asian Studies, and UNCP Teaching Enhancement Award, she has purchased $7,000 in books on Japan for the Mary Livermore Library.

A Japanese Pop-Culture Festival last spring included films, gaming, craft activities, Japanese snacks, and Cosplay, a form of performance art where students don costumes to play character roles. The event tapped into the worldwide popularity of Japanese pop art and culture and attracted more than 200 students.

“The library now has hundreds of new books on Japan,” Dr. Culver said. “The festival was very popular and spun off a student-driven Anime and Manga club called Genshiken.”

Dr. Culver, who counts Japanese and Chinese among the five languages she speaks, is a good fit for the mission of the Japan Network. A specialist in Japanese cultural history, her newest book, “Glorify the Empire: Japanese Avant-Garde Propaganda in Manchukuo, 1932-45,” will be released in February 2013 by University of British Columbia Press.

“Manchukuo is a state in northeast China that was a Japanese puppet during this period,” Dr. Culver said. “The propaganda campaign sought to convince the Chinese and Westerners that a new age of Japanese harmony had arrived during a critical time with Japan's 'nation-building' efforts in the areas it had invaded in Southeast Asia. It was hoped that Manchukuo would provide a template for other conquered areas, and this was communicated in literature, art, and photographic media throughout the Japanese empire.”

Dr. Culver became enamored Asia early in her education, and the fascination deepened with study.

“I was always very interested in Asian art, and in college, I developed an interest in Japanese culture and history,” she said. “I spent a year teaching English in Japan in the JET Program (Japan Exchange and Teaching), which is a window for many future Japanese scholars. I was also a Fulbright Scholar in Japan in 2004-05.”

A graduate of Vassar College, Dr. Culver earned a master’s degree in Regional Studies - East Asia from Harvard and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Modern Japanese Intellectual History, where she wrote a dissertation on the politics of the Japanese surrealist movement.

The Asian scholar believes she can make a valuable contribution to the understanding of Japan and U.S.-Japanese relations on campus and beyond.

“I am part of the second cohort of the U.S.-Japan Network,” Dr. Culver said. “The first cohort produced some outstanding scholars and leaders. Our cohort has many political scientists.

“I am the only historian in the group,” she continued, “and I am the only representative from a Southern university.”

In keeping with the project’s mission, Dr. Culver made a presentation on Labor Day weekend at the East-West Center International Conference at Peking University. She spoke on “U.S. - Japan ‘Soft Power’ Relations and a Rising China” during a panel on conflict resolution. 

U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke gave the keynote address at the conference, and Chinese officials and academic leaders hosted the conference, which featured discussions on the future of the Pacific Rim area. It received two full days of coverage in the English-language China Daily newspaper, which boasts a large circulation.

“My goal is to be a resource on Asia, at home and internationally,” Dr. Culver said. She teaches introductory, upper level, and graduate courses on the Comparative Asian Civilization, History of Modern East Asia, Introduction to Asian Studies, Japanese Civilizations, the US and East Asia, and Japanese Imperialism and War.

For more information about Asian Studies at UNCP, please contact Dr. Annika Culver at 910.521.6229 or email annika.culver@uncp.edu.

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