‘EastCon’ to explore East Asian culture April 26-27
Student organizers of the Princeton University East Asian Undergraduate Conference will host what they describe as one of the first academic conferences in the nation focused on featuring undergraduate research related to East Asian culture on April 26 and 27 in Lewis Library.
The undergraduates planning the conference, abbreviated as EastCon, have chosen the theme “Beyond Gangnam Style: K-Pop and the Rise of Asian Pop Music” for the inaugural year and will focus on hosting students who will present work related to East Asian pop music, according to Sarah Pak ’15, one of the eight Princeton undergraduates organizing the project.
“We decided to call it ‘Beyond Gangnam Style’ because we saw how popular the song had become, but it was almost overshadowing or coloring people’s perceptions of what East Asian pop culture really was,” Pak explained. “East Asian pop isn’t just about the horse dance.”
The conference will feature the work of twenty researchers, who are predominantly undergraduates from a variety of universities, and will be organized into four panels based on the focus of their research: Exotic Economics and New Cultures, Technology and Digital Mediums, Transnationalism and Gender, according to the organization's website.
“We really hit a small, passionate niche of people, who are genuinely excited about studying popular culture in East Asia,” Pak said of the presenters. “I’m hoping that their enthusiasm transfers to Princeton and gets people really thinking about these issues.”
After all of the researchers in each panel complete their 20-minute presentations, a group of four Princeton graduate students will discuss their findings, the conference’s graduate advisor W. Evan Young said.
“We wanted to give them some well-thought-out individual feedback and try to promote groups of presentations as potential sub-fields of study to show that they have promise,” Young explained. “Too much of the time, undergraduates produce fantastic work; they have fantastic ideas, but it remains within the classroom.”
The conference will also feature a faculty panel consisting of five professors from the University, Salisbury University and Wesleyan University as well as keynote speaker Woo Taek Kim, a Korean media producer.
The faculty panel will open a dialogue on some of the issues involved in researching popular culture, faculty panelist and University professor David Leheny explained.
“For me, the conference has two intellectual goals. One of them is to take a different lens to the study of East Asia,” Leheny said. “But another one is to think about the intellectual challenges involved in studying popular culture in general.”
The conference has received a total of $1,900 in funding from the USG-sponsored Projects Board, the Department of East Asian Studies, the Program in East Asian Studies, the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Comparative Literature, according to Pak. The undergraduate organizers have appealed to the Department of Music to receive more funding, she added.
According to the conference’s website, attendees and presenters can participate in the conference free of charge, but will have to pay for their transportation to the University. Both attendees and presenters can arrange their own housing or request that the organizers of the conference find them a host from among the undergraduate student body on the conference website’s registration page.
“Right now, about twenty people have signed up to attend,” Pak said. “But I would love if there were so many people that we had to say no."
Both Pak and Leheny said they hope that EastCon becomes an annual event, although ultimately that decision will reflect student interest in organizing another conference.
The undergraduates who organized the event have discussed hosting more activities and study breaks sponsored by the East Asian studies department throughout the academic year, Pak said.
“The amount of interaction that EAS has with a lot of the students here on campus is pretty tremendous if you think about it. I know a lot who are taking or have taken an East Asian language class,” Pak explained. “Those numbers don’t really translate into actual enrollment with people majoring in EAS though, which I think is a real shame. It seems like there is real interest.”
Pak said she thinks the conference will expose people to the variety of topics they can explore via classes and independent work within the realm of East Asian studies, including popular culture.
“Music is something that everybody, however remotely, is interested in,” Young noted. “As a scholarly conference you can draw on a very large audience, and we’re hoping that students here at Princeton will participate.”