If you happen to spot someone cruising through campus on a scooter, you may be seeing one of our college’s newest faculty hires, Zhidan (Diana) Duan. With an extensive background on China and Southeast Asia, Professor Duan is being warmly welcomed into the History Department this fall.
Visiting professor to the College of FHSS History Department Ian Lowman commands a versatility with Southeast Asian languages, considering he spent his childhood traveling Indonesia and two formative years as a missionary in Cambodia.
“It accounts for why I gravitated towards the study of Southeast Asia specifically,” Lowman says. “I speak the Khmer language and in my research I work with French, Sanskrit, Thai, and Indonesian, all with varying levels of proficiency.”
Lowman’s research is focused on the political and cultural history of Angkorian Cambodia, between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. “This is the culture that produced Angkor Wat and established one of the most powerful territorial states in medieval Asia,” Lowman says. “I’ve had the opportunity to work on editing and interpreting inscriptions written in Sanskrit and Old Khmer.”
While earning his doctorate degree from the University of California-Berkeley, Lowman’s graduate research, funded by a Fulbright-Hays fellowship and a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, centered around the Angkor Archaeological Park. “I’ve received generous and ongoing support for my research from the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap,” Lowman says.
Before coming to BYU, Lowman worked at Kenyon College, a liberal arts school in rural Ohio, as well as at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Returning more than a decade later to his alma mater, Lowman will teach new courses on Indian Ocean and South Asian history. South Asia is the most populous region in the world and Lowman says its history is central to the chronology of world religions and the age of European imperialism.
“The Indian Ocean region brings together the diverse coastal peoples and cultures of East Africa, Arabia, India, and Southeast Asia. This was the area of the world that beckoned the European explorers, and it remains vital today as the world’s oil continues to pass through the Strait of Hormuz and as China lengthens its “string of pearls” to Africa and beyond.” – Ian Lowman
Besides imparting his substantive knowledge of South Asia, Lowman says one of his teaching goals is helping students meet personal academic and career goals. “I also want to create incentives for my students to take advantage of the extraordinary resources at this university, like the library, the museums, and the Writing Fellows Program,” Lowman says.
He has the first-hand experience to relate to students. During spring term of his freshmen year at Brigham Young University, Lowman enrolled in a course on Greek and Roman mythology with professor John Hall from the Classics department. His class involved reading books in translation, such as Ovid, Virgil, Livy, Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus. “It was my closest experience to an old-fashioned Great Works course and it convinced me that I wanted to be a pre-modern historian and/or a philologist,” Lowman explains.
After taking History 200 with associate dean at BYU Paul Kerry, whom Lowman describes as a mentor who possessed a gentle and unique knack for tearing down and rebuilding, he had an experience that has remained with him since.
“One day he pulled out a sloppy last-minute paper I had turned in and read it out loud in front of the class. It was excruciating, but he prefaced it by saying something to the effect of “even brilliant writers can turn in junk like this if they’re being careless.” – Ian Lowman
Lowman says he considers that moment of “public shaming” to be the greatest compliment he received as an undergraduate. “It’s stayed with me as a reminder to respect my audience and to not cheapen my gifts.”