19 Aug Opportunities in Austria (blog by Kathy Wellen)
Last week more than 500 scholars convened in Vienna for the 8th conference of the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies. Previously held every three years and from now on biannually, this is the largest conference pertaining to Southeast Asian studies in the world. Just over fifty percent of the participants were from Europe and more than twenty percent were from Southeast Asia. The event’s main sponsor was Nikkei Asian Review.
And an event it was! The University of Vienna was an outstanding host in terms of logistics, facilities and local participation. Attentive facilitators were in every room, refreshments were served three times daily and Austrian scholars from all levels participated. There were also screenings of Southeast Asian films, musical performances, tours for out-of-town participants, a literary salon with award-wining Indonesian author Ayu Utami and a reception at the Viennese city hall.
The academic portion of the program took place over three and a half days on August 11-14. 77 panels were convened around 14 different themes. The panels pertaining to the theme urban, rural and border dynamics and the theme natural resources, the environment and customary governance were particularly numerous. Political scientist Ben Anderson and author Ayu Utami also delivered two keynote speeches about trends in Southeast Asian studies and changes in Indonesian culture, respectively. Additionally the University of Vienna offered master classes for PhD students during the day and a half immediately preceding the conference.
Nine researchers from KITLV attended the conference along with numerous scholars from Leiden University. KITLVs’ staff secretary, who was instrumental in organizing the conference, also attended and received extensive praise for a job well done. There were also numerous former KITLVers in attendance. These are former KITLV research fellows who hold positions at other universities such as Cornell, Leiden University and the University of Vienna. The Euroseas conference was thus an important opportunity to maintain old connections and establish new ones.
In my case Euroseas offered me the opportunity to plan a collaborative project with two scholars with similar interests. One was a historian I met at a workshop several years ago and the other was a scholar I just met for the first time in Vienna. A conversation over mutual academic interests blossomed over wine spritzers and we developed our idea further on the tram, in the hotel and at the university. Serendipitously we achieved as much on the sidelines of the conference as I would normally expect to achieve during an intensively-scheduled 16-hour workshop. This is in accordance with what keynote speaker Ben Anderson said “The best things happen by accident.” The beauty of the conference was that it created countless opportunities for interaction that can open doors of all sorts. As for the subject of my new collaborative project? . . . That is for a future blog post.