Reaching for the vision: the ATWS/AGSS story.

Author:Rodell, Paul A.
Position:Role of Harold Isaacs in Association of Third World Studies / Association of Global South Studies - Occupation overview

Harold Isaacs' Vision and Third World Perspectives

The Association of Global South Studies (AGSS), the professional organization formerly known as the Association of Third World Studies (ATWS), originated because of the vision and life's work of Professor Harold Isaacs of Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Georgia. Isaacs was a professor of Latin American history, who wanted to spread civic awareness of the "Non-Western" world beyond the classroom. He was also active in local politics and was a member of the "The Peanut Brigade" during the 1976 campaign for Jimmy Carter. For the world beyond American politics, he created an occasional lecture series, "Third World in Perspective," that would involve the broader Americus community, as well as the on-campus student body and faculty.

Over the years, Professor Isaacs always considered the Third World in Perspective series to be very important and he continued it until his death in 2015. Scores of scholars gave freely of their expertise, many in repeated appearances, in exchange for little more than travel expenses and an extremely modest honorarium. Eventually, many of the programs were taped and rebroadcast on community access television. The sessions were always well attended with a significant community presence due to the outreach efforts that Isaacs made during his many years in Americus.

The Third World in Perspective series was critical to the founding of ATWS because of Professor Isaacs' Georgia based speaker contacts. Some of these individuals later became the core of the new organization's first professional conferences as well as co-founders and officers of the formal organization. Over the years, ATWS, and now AGSS, has benefited from the efforts of many people who gave, and continue to give, generously of themselves. Some individuals were especially key and the story of the organization's growth is clearly reflected in their participation.

The Third World in Perspective program was also critical to the foundational objectives of ATWS which continue to define the organization. The first of these objectives is to provide forums where problems of the Third World (or the Global South) can be openly discussed and analyzed from a variety of academic perspectives. Forums such as this provide a place to understand those forces impacting global development and the destiny of so many people and nations. The next goal is the promotion of professional development not just through forums of discussion, but by encouraging research, publication, and classroom instruction. The third goal called for the facilitation of all forms of communication by sponsoring activities of various sorts that would bring people together. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the goal of enhancing the quality of life for the peoples of the third world either by ATWS/AGSS or in cooperation with private and public institutions.

The overall story of ATWS/AGSS has constantly been the efforts to fulfill each of these four goals. Members of the Association, whether individually or collectively, have always strived to do what they can to promote these four goals that Harold Isaacs enunciated back in the early 1980s. The challenge is as important today as it was then.

Early Key Members and Activities

One such early member was Bill Head, the Chief Historian at Robins Air Force Base, who saw an announcement for the second meeting in 1984. Head's Ph.D. work was in U.S. foreign relations with East and Southeast Asia.

Among his areas of research was modern Chinese history and he mistakenly assumed that the Harold Isaacs to whom he wrote was a well-known China specialist. In a follow-up phone call Isaacs clarified who he was and the two had a good laugh as they formed an immediate bond. Head presented at that 1984 conference. He also collaborated with Isaacs on "dozens" of Third World in Perspective meetings in Americus.

Very shortly after beginning the annual conferences, Isaacs founded the Journal of Third World Studies to give further voice for the conference papers and as a vehicle for additional contributions from other scholars. Until his death Isaacs served as the journal's lead editor. The first issues were basically proceedings, but in 1987 the publication adopted a true journal format. At that time, Isaacs had appointed four associate editors to assist him with each covering one of the world's four non-Western regions: Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Head was tapped to become the first Asia Associate Editor, which position he filled until 1997. John Mukum Mbaku, then of the economics department of Kennesaw State University northwest of Atlanta, was the Africa Associate Editor until 2007. Meanwhile, Martin J. Collo, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, covered Latin America from this beginning until 1997, while Zia Hashmi of Georgia Southern University rounded out the first Associate Editor staff by covering the Middle East, which he did until 1991.

Zia Hashmi recalled that one October evening he received a phone call from Professor Isaacs who invited him to give a lecture for his Third World in Perspective series. The call was a surprise because Hashmi had never met or talked to Isaacs. The two worked out a topic for Hashmi's presentation and this first visit was quickly followed by a second, which began a long friendship and ATWS partnership. Hashmi has related that after his second talk, Isaacs talked to him about the Association. Hashmi made an immediate commitment to his Americus colleague. Hashmi began attending the early ATWS meetings and hosted one annual meeting at Georgia Southern University and then another at his alma mater, the University of South Carolina. Hashmi characterizes these early meetings as an expanded version of the Third World in Perspective program and very congenial.

As noted above, in 1986 Hashmi accepted the Associate Editorship of the journal for the Middle East; but as ATWS became more professional rather than an informal annual conference, Isaacs asked Hashmi to become its Provisional Vice-President/President-Elect 1989-91. Isaacs was joined by Bill Head in prevailing on the initially reluctant Hashmi and Isaacs was then free to be the Provisional President and Secretary-Treasurer. Later, Hashmi was the first elected president in 1991-92. Isaacs, meanwhile, continued as Treasurer and John M. Mbaku, served as the first Secretary. Mbaku also served as vice president and then president in 1993-1994 and was instrumental along with Isaacs and Hashmi in organizing the 1994 conference at the College of William and Mary after the death of Mario Zamora, an internationally recognized anthropologist from that campus, who was to have served as host.

While these and other early members attended the annual meetings and contributed to the journal, ATWS itself became a more professional entity. In addition to the election of officers for positions, the organization was now guided by a constitution and by-laws. The impetus for ATWS's institutionalization came in part from Hashmi, who stressed its importance to Isaacs who also saw the wisdom of developing a permanent structure. However, it was Bill Head, at Isaacs' urging, who wrote the initial draft and then Hashmi and later Isaacs engaged in the process until a suitable document was finally finished. Isaacs would joke that Bill Head was ATWS's Jefferson, while he was its Ben Franklin and Zia Hashmi filled the role of George Washington. In fact, the constitutional framework that these three founding fathers produced has served the organization well and has seen only minor changes in subsequent years.

One of the constitution's innovations was the creation of the position of Executive Director that had a three-year term renewable upon approval by the Association's Executive Council, which was also created in the new constitution. The idea behind the addition of the executive directorship was that an organization needed a home that could support its activities and a Director could carry out and oversee the initiatives decided by the Executive Council. The executive director could also provide continuity from one elected officer to another and assist in conference program development and local arrangements wherever needed. The first Executive Director was Zia Hashmi, who held the position from 1992-96 and ATWS as an organization was then based at his Center for International Studies, Georgia Southern University. As Hashmi approached retirement, he recruited his campus's new history professor of Southeast Asia, Paul Rodell, to continue the work. The Executive Council gave their approval and the Georgia Southern Center maintained its support throughout Rodell's tenure of two three-year terms.

Growth and Initiatives

While Georgia would remain a firm anchor for many years, the association soon attracted much broader attention and members from around the country and even internationally. While membership rolls would fluctuate over time, the growth was steady as new members joined. One of the concerns of the early key members was that the association should always be infused, as Zia Hashmi would say, by "new blood." There was a recognition from the earliest days that an organization can only remain strong and vital by the intake of new, young members who bring with them energy and fresh thinking. This search for fresh faces is sometimes difficult for any organization, even one that was as young as ATWS. Instead of giving in to the temptation to turn to the familiar, the early leaders actively recruited junior faculty on their campuses and solicited participants for the annual conference and the journal.

Soon, many of the newer members were from states bordering Georgia, such as Florida and South Carolina, and when some Georgia members took new academic positions elsewhere they remained active members. This latter case was true, for...

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