The study of Asia has been prominent in the University's curriculum since as early as 1920, when the Board of Regents established the Japanese Department, and followed in 1922 with the approval of the Chinese Department. By 1930, this university ranked third among institutions of higher learning in the United States in offering course work on Asia. In 1935 the university was awarded the FIDAC medal for outstanding work in international education for service in fostering better understanding of the Far East.
In 1935 the Oriental Institute was established. Its guiding force and first director was Gregg M. Sinclair, later to become president of the university. The significance of library materials was well recognized by Dr. Sinclair, who believed that a strong University Library would attract good students and scholars. The Oriental Institute started with some 650 titles in English on Japan and China; 350 titles (1500 volumes) in Chinese; and 600 titles (2500 volumes) in Japanese. With the acquisition of the Prince Fushimi collection, Sinclair believed it ranked sixth in number of volumes on the Far East among American college and university libraries. He planned that it continue to grow until it had "an adequate library in the Japanese, Chinese, and Sanskrit languages" as well as the important works on the peoples of the three countries of Japan, China, and India. The library continued to grow with the addition of the Herbert A. Giles Chinese library and acquisitions gained during annual trips of its director, librarian and faculty. During World War II, an arrangement was made to obtain books published in China. Also at this time the Oriental Institute was reabsorbed by the University Library to become the Oriental Library.
Over the next two decades, the University Library continued to collect materials in both vernacular and western languages on Asia.
The East-West Center, established in 1962, absorbed, with the University's agreement, the vernacular materials in the Oriental Library collection on which to build the East-West Center Library. To the earlier focus on Japan, China, and India (now broadened to include all of the Indian sub-continent and called South Asia), the East-West Center Library added Southeast Asia. Over the years, the Korea and Philippine focus was expanded.
In 1970, the East-West Center transferred its library collection to the University Library where it was re-named the Asia Collection.
The Asia Collection continues to collect material in support of teaching and research in the areas of East, South and Southeast Asia in both vernacular and western languages. The focus of the collections continues to be the humanities, and the social sciences, with a growing emphasis on business. With the exception of the older China and Japan collections, the material is largely current imprints. The Asia Collection continues participation in both the South Asia Cooperative Acquisitions Program and the Southeast Asia Cooperative Acquisitions Program (formerly known as the PL480 and NPAC programs respectively). Both programs are administered by the Library of Congress.
The establishment in 1987 of the School of Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Studies again formalized within the university its long-standing interest in Asia. The centers which make up the school are not degree-granting programs, but rather serve to provide the leadership and coordination for the multidisciplinary instructional and research programs. However, undergraduate and graduate students are able to obtain the BA and MA degrees through the Asian Studies Program. Students may obtain graduate degrees in most disciplines with focus on a country or region of Asia.