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The Department of Asian Languages and Cultures traces its roots to the nineteenth century and the first courses in Sanskrit offered at the University of Michigan. Instruction in Chinese and Japanese were added in 1936. Today the department offers instruction in twelve languages of Asia. Over the course of its long history, the department has produced internationally renowned scholars of Chinese Studies, Japanese Studies, and Buddhist Studies.

Today, the department has graduate students working in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, India, and Indonesia in disciplines including Literary Studies, Media Studies, History, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. Staffed by twenty-five faculty with interests and expertise that are both deep and broad, in the past decade the department has sought to move beyond the area studies model to explore the boundaries between the traditional regions of Asia and Asian Studies, tracing lines of influence and interconnection across borders, languages, and historical periods.