Area studies programs welcome new directors

By Sheri Englund

Cornell’s Southeast Asia Program (SEAP) and Cornell Institute for European Studies (CIES) welcomed new faculty leadership this fall.

Abby Cohn
Abby Cohn

In her first weeks on the job, Abby Cohn – linguistics professor and new SEAP director – hit the ground running. Working with language instructors in the Department of Asian Studies, she organized and hosted the largest-ever gathering of instructors of Southeast Asia’s major languages: Burmese, Indonesian, Khmer, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Cornell is the only university in North America with regular multilevel instruction in all six of these languages, provided by the Department of Asian Studies with support from SEAP. Finding innovative ways to bring these rarely taught languages to more students, who include future diplomats and scholars, is one of the key initiatives of Cohn’s two-year term as SEAP director – and a critical area of national leadership for Cornell.

Cohn also gave the first lecture of SEAP’s weekly Gatty series this semester, “The Shifting Linguistic Landscape in Indonesia.”


Esra Akcan

Down the hall at CIES, incoming director and architectural historian Esra Akcan is taking a wide-angle look at migration with CIES’ newest event series. The lectures, workshops, and roundtables examine Europe as an immigrant continent, where “not only people, but also images, words, ideas, technologies, objects, information, and food” arrive and depart.

Akcan’s own research has looked at the migrant experience in Europe. Her new book about urban renewal and gentrification in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, home to many Turkish immigrants, will be published in 2018.

SEAP and CIES are among the six area studies programs in the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. The programs offer grants, fellowships, seminar series, workshops, and other services to the Cornell community.


Kaja McGowan

Cohn succeeds outgoing SEAP director Kaja McGowan, an art historian who studies the exchange of visual artifacts and performance traditions among neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. Since McGowan took the reins in 2014, SEAP has developed valuable new coursework, including a class on education in Myanmar co-taught by McGowan and education lecturer Bryan Duff, and strengthened collaborations with the Johnson Museum of Art’s notable Southeast Asia collection.

McGowan spearheaded a major conference last April that brought together Indonesian art experts from the United States, Europe, Indonesia, and Australia and featured a performance of wayang puppetry and photography and mask exhibits at the Johnson Museum.

“Kaja McGowan’s vibrant directorship is a hard act to follow,” Cohn said. Like McGowan, Cohn said she aims to foster collegial exchange. “The interplay between disciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and area studies enriches the work of everyone involved with SEAP,” she said.


Christopher Way

Associate professor of government and outgoing CIES director Christopher Way led the European studies program for three years, beginning in 2014. Jumping off from his research interests in peace studies and the political economy of democracies, Way strengthened CIES’s engagement in migration, the refugee crisis in Europe, and threats to academic freedom.

With support from the Scholar Rescue Fund and Global Cornell, CIES and the Einaudi Center hosted Turkish sociologist Azat Gündoğan when his family was forced to flee their homeland after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused thousands of academics of treason in 2016.

CIES associate director Jason Hecht said Akcan shares Way’s commitment to these vital concerns in Europe and the international academic community.

“One of the most exciting things about Esra is her distinctive approach to migration and passion for academic freedom,” he said.

Sheri Englund is a writer for the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs/Einaudi Center.