Regional Worlds at the University of Chicago
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About the Program

The Regional Worlds program at the University of Chicago (and the larger Globalization Project of which it was a part) was committed to the development and implementation of a conceptual, strategic and practical means for a new approach to area studies. Its main intellectual goal was to develop a critical discussion of how research and teaching in area studies might be transformed and how changing curricular form, content and pedagogic approach in area studies may have the broadest possible impact on institutions of higher education in the Midwest. Building on the results of the Ford Foundation funded pilot year (1996), which considered new approaches to the study of South Asia, the Regional Worlds project received further funding from the Ford Foundation to organize a three year project around the rethinking of Latin America and East Asia as additional "anchor regions," to culminate in a one-year focus on "Diasporas, Minorities and Counter-Geographies."

The Project was concerned with the ways in which long-term patterns of human action and organization produce changing cultural geographies. Much traditional thinking about "areas" has been driven by conceptions of geographical, civilizational and cultural coherence which rely on some sort of trait list -- of values, of languages, of material practices, of ecological adaptations, of marriage patterns and the like. However sophisticated these approaches, they all tend to see "areas" as relatively immobile aggregates of traits, with more or less durable historical boundaries and with a unity comprised of more or less enduring properties. In contrast Regional Worlds explores an architecture for area studies which is based on process geographies, and sees significant areas of human organization as precipitates for various kinds of action, interaction and motion -- trade, travel, marriage, pilgrimage, warfare, proselytization, colonization, exile and so on. Regional Worlds was built up of a series of annual regional anchors, on the model of traditional area studies, which are examined in the context of themes based on the thinking of process geography.

Each year focused on current global processes -- Environmental Relations (Latin America) and Regional Modernisms (East Asia) -- that exemplify the value of process geographies. In this new vision of area studies, such vital processes could be examined with an eye to the specific "areas," cultures and the histories they imply, in preference to the previous approach, which takes certain physical spaces for granted and asks what histories, languages and cultural formations they contain and exemplify. Regions, in our project, were explored as themes which generate geographies, rather than as geographies which contain themes.
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