Public Writing and Literacy in Asia

Still from Right Now, Wrong Then.

Still from Right Now, Wrong Then (지금은맞고그때는틀리다, 2015)

What can writing in public spaces tell us about changes in literacy, tourism, ethnic identity, and how history is remembered?

Project description

This project seeks to examine the changing linguistic landscape of signs and other public writing in Asia. What functions does public writing serve in different cultural and built contexts? What can we learn about societies from storefront signage, informational signs, inscriptions, banners, and other highly visible forms of public writing? How well does writing reflect reading practices, linguistic practices, and assertions of group identity? What happens when a people is no longer is able to read the signs that appear its public spaces? What might public writing reveal about what some people wish to remember and also what they hope to forget?

Students will also be encouraged to develop projects for presentation at a conference or publication in an undergraduate research journal. Examples of topics to be examined could include surveys of street signage using Google Street View, examinations of shifts in language use on grave markers, and studies of how writing appears on clothing, coins, or other media, etc.

Prof. Hakala will assist students in requesting sources through UB Libraries, securing funding to visit Asian Studies library collections, and preparing a presentation at a research conference or paper for publication in a journal. Students interested in this project will need to read some introductory works on public writing and epigraphy in Asia and demonstrate proficiency with bibliography software (e.g., EndNote, Bookends, Zotero) before beginning this project.

Project outcome

  • Visits to partner institutions
  • Conference presentation at an undergraduate research conference (e.g., Pittsburgh-Area Asia Consortium Undergraduate Conference, Rustgi Undergraduate Conference on South Asia, etc.)
  • Publication of research in an undergraduate research journal
  • Development of new syllabi on public writing and literacy in Asia

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment Variable based on student interest
Start time Anytime
In-person, remote, or hybrid?
Level of collaboration Individual or small group project 
Benefits Academic credit
Who is eligible All undergraduate students with an intermediate or greater proficiency in an Asian language

Core partners

Project mentor

Walter Hakala

Associate Professor

Asian Studies and English

315 Clemens Hall

Phone: (716) 645-3419


Start the project

  1. Email the project mentor using the contact information above to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor.)
  2. After you receive approval from the mentor to start this project, click the button to start the digital badge. (Learn more about ELN's digital badge options.) 

Preparation activities

Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase. 


Asian Studies and English