Summer 2016 Writing Workshop for Mongolian and Chinese Scholars

By Ariell Ahearn and Dawn Chatty

Ariell Ahearn is co-editor of a forthcoming White Horse Press book, Pastoralist Livelihoods in East Asian Drylands: Environment, Governance and Risk, to be published in June 2017. A number of its included papers grew out of the initiative described below. Dawn Chatty is former chair of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples, whose journal, Nomadic Peoples, we publish. Her book From Camel to Truck was published by The White Horse Press in 2013.

Professor Dawn Chatty secured funding from the Ford Foundation to host a writing workshop and retreat at the Mongolian National Institute of Geography’s Field School. Together with Dr Troy Sternberg we designed a workshop to bring together Chinese and Mongolian scholars who work on issues around pastoralism. The workshop was held from 27-30 June 2016 and focused on specific issues related to the environment, pasture management, religion and governance and social institutions for pastoralists. Four participants travelled from China to attend. The first day of the workshop included discussions around topics such as why publish in academic journals, finding a research question or hypothesis, how to review an article and how to structure a journal article. These sessions were discussion-based and focused on the piece of writing that the participants brought with them. The following day of the workshop involved presentations on methods and participants had a paper exchange and peer review session.

The workshop was designed to provide information to participants regarding techniques for writing and submitting academic journal articles, as well as to encourage more active peer-to-peer support and review. As an organiser of the workshop and now an editor for the collection of papers written by workshop participants, there are a few points that I would like to identify around capacity building for scholars from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Firstly, a one or two-day writing workshop should be viewed as an opportunity to build networks and provide training around technical issues. Some of these technical issues should be focused on conventions for referencing and citing work, search techniques on open access databases, training in methods and providing insight into the expectations and process for publishing in academic journals.

Secondly, capacity building should involve long-term engagement with individuals and institutions. If the goal is to see more indigenous scholars published in peer reviewed journals and for their valuable perspectives and insights to be available to the scholarly community, then deeper engagement and relationship building between scholars should be considered. This can involve collaborations in field work, in publishing, and in organizing events such as conference panels. As we know, writing is a lot of work and difficult for people who are native English speakers. Not being fluent in English makes writing journal articles even more of a challenge.

I hope that there are more opportunities to develop long-term collaborations between scholars located in different areas of the world. The combination of a mentorship programme and annual or bi-annual field school/writing retreat would be extremely productive in terms of capacity building for scholars working in under-resourced universities. I do encourage anyone organising workshops or conferences to make a deliberate effort to invite and include scholars who are regional experts in their field. This would certainly contribute positively to academic research and be an enriching experience for all participants.20160629_16553520160629_164626

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