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Asian Influence

UMBC’s faculty experts on Asian cultures are extending the university’s reach across the Pacific.

Two books written by UMBC Faculty are currently being translated to Asian languages.  Tour of Duty: Samurai, Military Service in Edo, and the Culture of Early Modern Japan, is by Constantine Vaporis, professor of history, and examines the cultural aspects of Samurais’ tours of duty while in the employ of Japanese war lords.  That book is currently being translated to Japanese, and will be released in Japan in May.

Anna Shields, director of the honors college, also has a book in translation. Crafting a Collection: The Cultural Contexts and Poetic Practice of the Huajian ji, examines the social and literary origins of Chinese love song lyrics from the 10th Century and is being translated to Chinese.  The book was released in English in 2006, and will be released in China in 2011.

Neither author wrote their book thinking that it would be translated, and they agreed that the process is more complicated than simply handing their work over to the translator. “I have to track down the original source notes and interpret them for the translators,” said Vaporis. The English version of his book was released in 2008 and chosen as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 by the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Shields pointed out that cultural as well as linguistic differences between her scholarship and Chinese norms complicate the process. “I take an approach that isn’t necessarily identical to the one that Chinese scholars would use, so I need to be sure that the particular perspective I use on a problem is correctly translated,” she said.

Maintaining the perspectives in these two books is crucial, because both authors look at their subject in a unique way. “There are lots of studies in Japan that look at [the tour] as a control mechanism, but none that look at it from a cultural perspective,” Vaporis said. Shields tackled an art form and period that has not been widely studied.

Both authors expect that the translated version of their book will be popular, because the subjects are familiar and interesting to the people where they will be released. “Think about how many books are published here on Shakespeare in a given year,” Shields explained.

In addition to reaching a Chinese audience through her scholarship, Shields will head to China this month to talk with high school students about attending UMBC. UMBC is also the home of Asian scholars; Warren Cohen, professor emeritus of history, recently released the fifth edition of his book America’s Response to China: A History of Sino-American Relations, and Ka-che Yip, professor of history, was named a 2010-2013 UMBC Presidential Research Professor for his work in modern Chinese history and public health.

“I think there are all kinds of opportunities for UMBC to begin building real connections in China,” Shields said.

(3/12/10)