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Asia’s Self-Discovery: Intercultural Understanding and

the Infrastructure of Empire


11 October 2022 | 4pm BST

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With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, a chain of steam ports linked Istanbul and Yokohama at the far ends of Asia, forging a pan-Asian public sphere for the first time in history. Despite being constructed to aid colonial commercial interests, this new communication infrastructure led to unprecedented levels of inter-Asian contact. Yet connection is not the same as comprehension. Since the very word ‘Asia’ was a European invention, proponents of anticolonial solidarity struggled to reconcile their rhetoric of continental unity with the facts of cultural diversity.  And so, far from flowing smoothly, cross-cultural knowledge faced obstacles of many kinds – especially at a time when even few dictionaries existed between the continent’s countless languages. Drawing on Nile Green’s new book, How Asia Found Herself, this talk examines how the different peoples of modern Asia tried to understand each other’s cultures: from Muslim interpretations of Buddhism and Indian accounts of Confucius to the rise of a Middle Eastern Japanophilia and translations of the Quran in China.

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Nile Green holds the Ibn Khaldun Endowed Chair in World History at UCLA. A former Guggenheim Fellow, his previous books include Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean (which won the Middle East Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Book Award and the Association for Asian Studies’ Ananda K. Coomaraswamy Book Award); The Love of Strangers: What Six Muslim Students Learned in Jane Austen’s London (a New York Times editors’ choice); and Global Islam: A Very Short Introduction. He also hosts the podcast Akbar’s Chamber: Experts Talk Islam. His latest book,  How Asia Found Herself: A Story of Intercultural Understanding, is published in November 2022 by Yale University Press.

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