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John M. Echols

Writer / See Indonesianist



John was born in Portland, Oregon, where his parents were temporarily living. They and their ancestors were of Virginia stock from the Shenandoah Valley, and when John was three they moved to West Virginia. In 1927 he entered the Lane High School in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he met Nancy, his future wife. He became an undergraduate of the University of Virginia in 1930.

In cooperation with the fledgling Southeast Asia Program founded by Lauriston Sharp in 1950, Milton Cowan, the first Director of the Division of Modern Languages at Cornell was then searching for someone to assume responsibility for the development of an Indonesian language program at Cornell, for from its inception the Southeast Asia Program insisted that foreign language training should be required of its students. Partly on the basis of his earlier personal contact with John, and John’s growing reputation at the Foreign Service Institute, in the Fall of 1952 Milton invited John to become a visiting associate professor in Cornell’s Division of Modern Languages. 8 John immediately accepted the invitation and became the Program’s third permanent faculty member. His foreign language experience was an admirable qualification for his new post. Moreover, he had already spent three months in Indonesia, Malaya, and Vietnam, organizing English language programs on behalf of the State Department. Even more important, early in 1952 the Program on Oriental Languages of the American Council of Learned Societies invited him to undertake the preparation of an Indonesian-English dictionary. All these features of his background were to contribute a coherent shape and purpose to his career at Cornell.

John’s annual reports show that his years at Cornell were packed with extracurricular duties. From 1952 to 1955 he served as Director-Consultant of the Ford Foundation’s English language teaching program in Indonesia. From 1954 to 1957 he was a member of the Fulbright Fellowship Committee, and throughout the 1960s was a member of the Asia Society’s Indonesian Council. In 1957 he participated in an Asian Literature Panel at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco. He was always an active and invaluable member of the Far Eastern Association, known since 1956 as the Association for Asian Studies. He served on its numerous committees and eventually became President in 1977-78. In his early Cornell years, he often lectured and contributed articles on Southeast Asian topics outside Cornell. He was an examiner and consultant for the Universities of Singapore and Malaya and was invited to give advice on library development at new Southeast Asian Centres at Hull and Canterbury in England.




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