We all know Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters, but do you know Victoria Azarenka, or Yani Tseng? They both happen to be the top athletes in the world, one from Belarus (located between Russia and Ukraine), and the other from Taiwan. However, if you have no idea who they are, you are not alone.
It is only natural that our media tend to cover people and stories that we care about, and most people care about what is happening here at home. However, as scholar or scholar-to-be, it is imperative that you should break away from your comfort zone and make an effort to learn about what is happening outside the US. As early as 1937, a US scholar, Mortimer Graves, wrote on the importance for US scholars to study other parts of the world,
“As I see it, we have in the study of China, Japan, India, the USSR, and the Arabic world to create a new (American) attitude, and probably new techniques; we cannot borrow either from academic learning of the 19th century…For in dealing with these newer civilizations we are not dealing with dead ones, but on the contrary with civilizations that are very much alive…we have to participate, and that means to know what the Orientals are doing and try to do it with them.”[i]
The “new (American) attitude” that Graves advocated in 1937 led to the mushrooming of area studies in academic institutions across North America, following the end of WWII. However, even today, what Graves said more than half a century ago still rings true, and perhaps has become even more pertinent. For now it is no longer just the business of a few “area studies” specialists to study other parts of the world; it is everybody’s business. That is because our world has become, more than ever, deeply and irreversibly interconnected. Whatever happens in Athens, Greece, for example, would have immediate repercussions on Wall Street, here in the US. Not to mention that we, as a global community, all face the same challenges: fighting poverty, dwindling resources, climate change, peace and security, and so forth.
So, don’t fall into the trap of a self-imposed cultural provincialism by limiting yourself to the media that you are most familiar with. Make an effort and seek out sources of information from other countries, such as China Daily (China), Daily Yomiuri (Japan), St Petersburg Times (Russia), Daily Times (Islamabad), Pyongyang Times (North Korea), Anis (Afghanistan) etc. At least, you should consult these sources whenever you write a paper relevant to those countries so that you could see things from a non-US perspective.
Wait, wait, but I don’t read those languages, I hear you say. No problem. Our library can provide translated news sources from all around the world. Just go to our newspapers guide and check out the databases such as World News Connection, or Access World News. Both databases provide archival and current news from all parts of the world, all in full text and translated into English.
Now you have no excuse.
[i] Quoted in Paul Evans, John Fairbank and the American Understanding of Modern China (New York, 1988), p59.