Reflections on the origins of HEAS

by Evan Dawley (AM'98, PhD'06), Associate Professor History at Goucher College


“It feels like a long time since I was in RSEA, and was fortunate to be present at the creation of HEAS (Harvard East Asia Society). HEAS the organization emerged out of conversations that I had with a handful of other RSEA students--John Fei (’97), Harriet (then) Baker (’97), Mike Finnegan (’98), and a couple of others—about how one of RSEA’s greatest resources was its extensive alumni network, but that current students felt disconnected from it. John set things in motion by generating a contact list for alumni and producing the first newsletter in the spring of 1997, and I formally established the organization in the fall. From there, it took off: Johanna Pitman (’00) ran the first HEAS conference (I will forever feel guilty--none of us had any idea how big a job that would be!), we organized an Alumni Panel event, and the newsletter continued." (The RSEA Alumni Panel and the HEAS Conferences continue to be annual events)

On the benefits of RSEA:

“RSEA fundamentally shaped my adult life. The training I received there, in language, history, and international relations led me to a Harvard-Yenching Fellowship at Fudan University and my work with WorldTeach in China, which in turn guided me back to pursue a Ph.D. in Chinese history from Harvard. That academic/non-profit combination allowed me to see the possibilities in taking a job with the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian, where I got to do some meaningful work on U.S. foreign relations history and the historical background of contemporary disputes in East Asia.”

“Ultimately, though, I wanted to be like the many professors from whom I learned so much, and happily landed at Goucher in the fall of 2013. I teach mostly early modern and modern history of China, Japan, and the whole region. Much of my research has focused on Taiwan, appearing as “Finding Meaning in Time and Space: Periodisation and Taiwan-Centred History,” International Journal of Taiwan Studies 1:2 (August 2018); and the long-delayed publication of what began as my dissertation, Becoming Taiwanese: Ethnogenesis in a Colonial City, 1880s-1950s (Harvard Asia Center Press, 2019). I have now shifted to work on the international construction of Chinese national identity by Chinese governments through their relations with and around Chinese communities around the globe. The roots of this project can be followed through my work on Taiwanese identities, my Ph.D. training, and back to the international history and international relations I studied in RSEA.”