The Harvard University Asia Center was founded during the 1997-1998 academic year as a university-wide interfaculty initiative to provide an intellectual meeting ground for faculty members, students, scholars, and other professionals engaged with Asia. Other early goals of the Asia Center were to promote research and training on Asia and particularly on the challenges facing Asian nations; coordinate activities and programs among Harvard’s existing Asia-related centers; and improve connections between the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the other Harvard schools. It was also charged with expanding the study of South and Southeast Asia at Harvard, a goal largely attained with the 2003 establishment of the South Asia Initiative, which was formally recognized as an academic institute in 2013 and became the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute in 2017. The Center also raised funds for two endowed Southeast Asia-related professorships at Harvard and in 2014 established its Thai Studies Program.
The Asia Center focuses its initiatives, events, and student and faculty grants on East, South, and Southeast Asia, with an emphasis on topics that cross national boundaries and academic disciplines (activities related to Central Asia are supported by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard). Its widely respected Publications Program annually publishes a dozen or more titles on East Asian humanities, many of which have won awards from national and international scholarly associations. With its core lectures, seminars series, and conferences, the Center engages with topics critical to Asia and its connections with other regions, bringing in notable academics, government officials, business leaders, and other specialists as featured speakers and panelists. It has also supported academic research and training through its robust faculty and student grant programs, which have increased dramatically in both the number and amount of grants awarded since 1998.