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Reading: Not Only Rivers and Mountains: Why Story Matters in New Area Studies


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Not Only Rivers and Mountains: Why Story Matters in New Area Studies


Philip Wilson

University of East Anglia, GB
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Area Studies was accused of storytelling, apparently an academic crime that merited its so-called demise. In this paper, I argue that storytelling is an integral part of academic writing in the humanities and that the rebirth of New Area Studies can be at least in part explained by its stress on narrative. Interdisciplinary investigation of story can help the field re-consolidate itself, because theoretical work can both describe and drive practice, as I show by a translation example. I then look outside New Area Studies to three other fields. First, I examine how historians weave narratives out of agreed facts, using Heidegger’s understanding of interpretation and Collingwood’s notion of re-enactment to explain the process. Second, I support Milutinović’s call for a move from the metonymic to the metaphoric in New Area Studies, by showing how the methods and tools of the later Wittgenstein, including his use of story, can be applied to New Area Studies to produce the surveyable representation, a way of making connections evident. Third, I show how dialogue with narrative theory can support the use of literary texts by researchers in New Area Studies, because the mind itself is literary in nature (following Turner), which means that novels can evoke what it feels like to be in a situation. The paper concludes that storytelling, far from being an embarrassment to New Area Studies, should be at the heart of its methodology and should be further examined in order to tell new stories and to tell them well.

How to Cite: Wilson, P., 2021. Not Only Rivers and Mountains: Why Story Matters in New Area Studies. New Area Studies, 2(1), pp.7–38. DOI:
Published on 12 Nov 2021.
Peer Reviewed


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