For many decades, ACLS has extended its reach beyond the borders of the United States. The International Programs team currently administers a major program in Buddhist Studies, with the support of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Global, as well as a new residential program in Bulgaria, thanks to a generous donation by Carl and Betty Pforzheimer.

In November 2023, ACLS President Joy Connolly and I attended the inaugural conference of the African Humanities Association (AHA) in Cape Town. AHA is led by past fellows and advisors from the African Humanities Program (AHP), which ACLS created with the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 2008. With the completion of AHP, ACLS continues to partner with AHA to support the transition and to help sustain the revitalization of humanistic scholarship on the continent.

As with AHP, many ACLS fellowship and grant programs have evolved in recent years to best meet the needs of humanistic scholars across the globe. We continually look to and listen to our communities—past fellows, reviewers, community partners, and scholars at all levels both in and outside the academy—in learning how to best meet these needs and adapt our programs.

Most recently, we launched a redesigned Program in China Studies. ACLS and the Henry Luce Foundation have partnered in this field for 40 years, since joining together in 1984 to help support the Universities Service Center, established by ACLS in Hong Kong in 1963 and now part of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Through this time, our shared aims have been to extend the understanding of Chinese culture and history through research, education, and international collaboration.

At the end of 2020, with the support and encouragement from our partners at Luce, ACLS embarked on an intensive assessment project to identify and better meet current issues in the field. This three-year process brought together more than 100 scholars, experts, and practitioners through advisory groups and steering committees, brainstorming sessions and focus groups, interviews and institutes.

It is remarkable that every social science researcher we interviewed has decided to shift their research trajectory, largely as a result of the current geopolitical situation and concerns over the securitization of academic exchanges.

The first step was the formation of an advisory committee, which resulted in a survey and study report on the field of China studies, and was followed by a series of brainstorming sessions, covering topics from diversity, equity, and inclusion to the co-creation of knowledge and securitization.

Together with our steering committee and faculty advisors, Emily Baum F’15 of the University of California, Irvine, and Yingyi Ma of Syracuse University, we organized a Summer Institute in June 2022 to help define recommendations for action that ACLS could undertake and then a series of focus groups and convenings to refine these suggestions. In parallel, our faculty advisors undertook a set of in-depth interviews to secure a deeper understanding of the individual experiences of China studies scholars and published their findings in the 2023 report China Studies in an Uncertain Age.

Over time, we have asked a lot of questions: how best to define China studies; what impact scholarship can have beyond the academy; how we can foster a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse field; what the biggest obstacles are to research on China. 

Across these discussions, common themes surfaced. Some echo emerging needs across humanistic disciplines such as the desire for more training in and more recognition of public facing work and the need for more scholarly community, particularly for those in language and literature fields who may be the only such person at their institution. Others are more specific to the field, including concerns about the growing securitization of research on China or the need to think more broadly about what “Chinese-ness” and “China studies” mean.

The need for flexible support, funding for graduate students and early career scholars, and funding for travel stood out.

I have met many ACLS cohorts and officers throughout the years at workshops and retreats organized. Conversations with them always inspire me to pursue new venues of interest and expand my understanding of the field. Jue Liang F’23, F’19, G’16 

Luce/ACLS China Studies Fellow

We distilled what we learned into a new program design and, in August 2023, ACLS announced the next generation of the Luce/ACLS Program in China Studies. Directly informed by the needs identified by dozens of scholars, administrators, journalists, librarians, curators, artists, and readers of research and writing on China, today’s Luce/ACLS Program in China Studies aims to foster more inclusivity in the field, support publicly engaged scholarship, and develop effective strategies for long-term change in the field.

With the new program, we are also pleased to welcome Special Projects Researcher JM Chris Chang, who joined ACLS in the fall of 2023. A historian of modern China whose research focuses on issues of bureaucracy, archive, and surveillance in the 20th century, Chris’ expertise in unconventional and discarded archival sources will be critical to the success of a new mapping project that aims to help early career scholars access vital source collections and archives for China Studies. He is leading the initiative in close consultation with researchers, librarians, and data specialists.

The redesigned program also includes the return of travel grants, which now specifically support non-tenured faculty in addition to doctoral candidates, as well as both long-term and flexible fellowships for early career scholars.

We look forward to more new activities in 2024, from the launch of a Collaborative Grant competition which will support innovative pilot projects that can impact the field, to convening fellows at the upcoming Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference in March. By late spring, we hope to announce the newest cohort of Luce/ACLS Fellows and Grantees in China Studies – including the first of the new Travel Grant awardees.

We welcome your feedback on the new program design at [email protected] and are excited to share more news with you in 2024.

Deena Ragavan
ACLS Director of International Programs

Deena Ragavan is the Director of International Programs. She designs and implements activities supporting humanities and interpretive social sciences scholars and the communities in which they work. This includes contributing to the administration and management of peer-reviewed international fellowship and grant programs.