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“The Inner Asian Business: Inter-Area Studies and the Asian Heartland in US Imperial Fantasies,” Dang Weiyu
This paper looks at explorer, foreign policy advisor, and geographer Owen Lattimore’s Inner Asian inter-area studies program at Johns Hopkins University’s Walter Hines Page School of International Relations from 1944-1950. Conventionally, Cold War area studies produced counter-insurgent American experts and advisors deployed overseas under the supposedly apolitical aegis of national security, third world development, and modernization theory. Alternatively, Lattimore presents a human capital complement that sought to relocate people from strategic areas, chiefly what he considered the Inner Asian frontier belt that stretched from Manchuria to Turkestan. This inter-area paradigm sought to identify transnational frontiers whose recognition could be fostered from the US in both a genuinely empathetic and calculatedly strategic manner, rather than area studies’ targeting of decolonizing and undercapitalized nation-states. Materially, Lattimore’s work was crucial to US interests in expanding extractive industries throughout Inner and Central Asia as the Carnegie Corporation funded his foreign scholars and study groups on the continental futures of US-Asian relations. Academically, the American Council of Learned Societies supported the development of Inner Asian language, history, and culture courses in the ongoing integration of academia and the foreign service. Anti-communism further offered legislative encouragement as Lattimore resettled two Mongol families and a prominent lama as political refugees, the first Monglians in the US. Yet just as prominent Uyghur exiles sought his aid to support Xinjiang, Lattimore’s targeting by the McCarthyist “loss of China” crusade in the 1950s ended the project as funding and institutional support dwindled. Despite the failure of this inter-area project, the corporate liberal conditions for knowing Asia from US universities are increasingly critical amid the resurgence of grand strategy and imperial competition over Inner Asia.
Image: Scan from Lattimore, Owen, Fujiko Isono, and Dilova Khutagt Zhamsranzhav. 1982. The Diluv Khutagt : Memoirs and Autobiography of a Mongol Buddhist Reincarnation in Religion and Revolution. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag.