Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs
A History, 1952 to the present
by Sidney DeVere Brown, the University of Oklahoma, updated by William Londo
Unlike some other regional meetings, the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs began operations independently of the Association for Asian Studies, meeting for the first time at the University of Oklahoma in Norman during Thanksgiving vacation of 1952 as the Far Eastern Affairs Conference. A decade later, in 1962, it was renamed the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs (MCAA), and came formally under the wing of the Association for Asian Studies in 1967.
The handful of Asianists at universities in the region most remote from the coastal universities served by AAS were a "lonely bunch," and responded readily to the invitation of Percy W. Buchanan, our founder, to gather at his university in 1952. A former Presbyterian missionary to Japan, Buchanan became a missionary to the cause of promoting Asian studies, served as first president of the foundling organization, and then its executive secretary until it was up and running on its own.
Older prewar Asia hands who joined the new group reached accommodation with new Ph.D.s from the fledgling postwar centers, and for some of them loyalty to the conference lasted a lifetime. Rudolph Bjorgan of Wartburg College in Iowa, for example, attended every meeting from the beginning in 1952 up until his death in 1998. Research scholars in neighboring universities of the region befriended their counterparts; professors exchanged information on classroom teaching and summer institutes for teachers; and collegiality with peers in one’s own field became possible for the isolated scholar.
MCAA has developed a sense of its own history by publishing the list of past presidents and of conference locations in its program annually. In the early years conference meetings were held more often in Kansas than in other states, but after the conference leaped the Mississippi River for the first time in 1959 to gather at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, the state of Illinois became the most favored meeting ground, in recognition of the larger membership in that part of the Midwest. Early on the Big Eight universities were central to the organization, but more recently the Big Ten universities have held meetings most frequently. In 1973, two of the original states were pared off by a national committee of the AAS, a move that placed Oklahoma in the Southwest Conference and Colorado in the Western Conference, while still allowing some choice of conference membership for individuals. Throughout its existence, meetings of the MCAA have commonly alternated between major universities and small colleges, in recognition of the need to support Asian studies locally in both these setting.
An early president, Robert K. Sakai of the University of Nebraska, established and edited a handsome, hardcover annual volume of selected papers published by the University of Nebraska Press for eight years, 1960–67, and by the University Press of Kansas for two additional years. This series, Studies on Asia, was revived in 2004 in the form of an online journal sponsored by MCAA, hosted by the Asian Studies Center of Michigan State University, and edited by Linda Cooke Johnson.
Grant Goodman, another past president, established an archive of MCAA materials at the University of Kansas library, so that the organization’s most important records are carefully preserved to this day. Although meetings move around, some continuity is provided by having the executive secretary serve for three years, and by finding unusually conscientious people for that position. The current executive secretary is Roy S. Hanashiro, University of Michigan, Flint.
Annual meetings which first attracted 15–20 registrants now have 200–300 people in attendance, and have grown in comprehensiveness. The president of AAS usually speaks (George C. Cressy was the first in 1959), prominent guest speakers are often featured (C. Northcote Parkinson, on "The Renaissance of Asia," in 1959, for example), professionals in the Asian performing arts usually have an evening (Indrani and her dancers in 1961, for example), feature films are often shown (Snow Country, a Japanese film, was screened in 1969), and workshops are held for secondary school teachers (as in the program featuring Frank Gibney at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1995).
Annual prizes for graduate essays, an undergraduate essay, and public service suggest conference priorities, and each is named for persons who have made significant contributions to the organization: the Percy W. Buchanan Graduate Prizes (one each for an outsanding papers by Midwestern graduate students on topics relating to China and Inner Asia, Northeast Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia), the Sidney DeVere Brown and Mikiso Hane Undergraduate Prizes; for outstanding papers composed by undergraduates in Midwestern colleges and universities, and the Jackson and Caroline Bailey Outreach Prize, recognizing .a scholar or teacher with a distinguished record of teaching about Asia and promoting Asian Studies in the Midwest.