Supporting Research on Mongolia
The Mongolian Parliament has been considering a proposal for the creation of a special fund for the implementation of a National Program for Promoting Mongolian Studies adopted by the Government in 2012. This proposal was initiated by President Ts. Elbegdorj and recently endorsed by the Parliament’s Budget Standing Committee. As international academics conducting research work on Mongolia, we want to applaud the overall aim of the proposal to promote academic research and build global understanding of Mongolia’s culture, environment and contemporary society.
Based on our more than 20 years of research experience in Mongolia and our work with the American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS) supporting academic research and exchange in Mongolia through our office, library and programs in Ulaanbaatar, we would like to offer four suggestions to maximize the impact and effectiveness of the National Program for Promoting Mongolian Studies:
- Adopt an inclusive definition of the term “Mongolian Studies”;
- Use an inventory of research on Mongolia to plan further activities and to integrate researchers in different disciplines around the world;
- Make the results of research on Mongolia more accessible; and
- Build research capacity among Mongolian Studies scholars in Mongolia and abroad.
First, it is important that the Program adopt an inclusive definition of the term “Mongolian Studies”. We suggest that the term should include academic research on Mongolian any discipline, from anthropology and the social sciences, to history and the humanities, zoology and the natural sciences.From our experience, researchers in Mongolian Studies traditionally dedicated their careers to Mongolian history and linguistics, and were clustered around a few established centers of Mongolian Studies. Today, universities and researchers worldwide are moving away from geographically-defined research and toward more comparative and theory-driven approaches.Researchers are now more likely to be trained in disciplinary fields, and then select a particular country for their empirical work, rather than focusing exclusively in one country.
This tendency is particularly evident in past few years in Mongolia. Academic interest in Mongolia across a range of disciplines has been increasing, and the ACMS has seen growth in our membership, which now includes more than 40 universities and almost 400 scholars from around the world. The ACMS office in Ulaanbaatar hosts a growing number of students and researchers every year who are conducting research work in a wide variety of academic fields, including more than 300 international visitors in 2012. Most of these researchers and students do not consider themselves “Mongolian Studies” scholars, but work and publish in their primary disciplines, including biology, political science, and anthropology. Field researchers find Mongolia to be an excellent site to study topics of global interest and importance such as climate change, economic and political transition, East Asian civilizations, and cultural continuity and change in the face of rapid development. The Program should capture and support this broader interest in Mongolia, particularly among new generations of scholars, while still supporting specialists who focus exclusively on Mongolia.
Another source of growth in academic interest in Mongolia has been the research conducted by Mongolian scholars, many of whom have received advanced degrees from prestigious international universities. These scholars also may not define themselves as “Mongolian Studies” specialists, but they are conducting research on topics crucial to Mongolia’s present and future development. It will be important to support these scholars and research topics that focus on contemporary Mongolia to provide better information and analysis to decision makers.
To support the active and growing group of researchers working with Mongolia, we would encourage several specific initiatives under the National Program for Promoting Mongolian Studies.
First, in order to plan for further activities for the Program, an inventory of contemporary research on Mongolia is needed. This should precede and inform decisions on the focus areas for the Program. The ACMS has been exploring ways to create a database of scholars and institutions working in Mongolia, similar to the databases of Japan Studies scholars and institutions created periodically by the Japan Foundation. This database might be updated and made useful through a social media site that allows Mongolian Studies scholars to meet and share information on their research work.
Second, we would support efforts to make resources related to Mongolia more accessible, both within Mongolia and online. Mongolian libraries and museums lack online catalogues, and digital collections are underdeveloped and generally not accessible. Databases, catalogues and digital collections can be developed using international standards, which would allow Mongolian materials to be accessible by both international and Mongolian scholars.Bibliographies of publications related to Mongolia can be created through the inventory of research we recommend above, along with archives of unpublished materials such as reports and research papers. These efforts will require training and the development of software, hardware and content, but Mongolia can partner with international organizations and build on the experience of other developed and developing countries.
Third, individual scholars should be supported in their efforts to build research and writing skills. Mongolian scholars need training through workshops and mentoring in developing and publishing academic papers in leading international journals and other forums, and in finding ways to link their research work with current policy issues. Foreign scholars need help building their networks and partnerships in Mongolia, and skills such as Mongolian language with possible publishing in leading Mongolian journals. Based on the experience of the ACMS, which developed the first for-credit online Mongolian language course, we believe online courses can be important tool to bring together a dispersed set of scholars from different universities and raise their cultural awareness and research ability.
Several of these suggestions would enhance the impact and support the implementation of the National Program for Promoting Mongolian Studies.We look forward to work with the Mongolian government, academic institutions and the ACMS to help promote Mongolian Studies and the development of a new generation of scholars who can contribute to both the preservation of Mongolia’s cultural heritage and the sustainable development of the country.
More information on the ACMS and its current programs can be found at www.mongoliacenter.org.
Executive Director, American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS)
Associate Professor, Royal Roads University
Associate Professor, University of British Columbia