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The Asian Division houses some of the most important core collections of the Museum. The earliest acquisitions were acquired by Dr. Beal Steere in the late 19th century. Another large collection came from the Imperial Chinese Government via the 1885 Cotton Centennial Exhibition. Dr. Carl E. Guthe, the first director of the Museum, made significant additions to the collection during a three-year expedition to the Philippines in the 1920s. Later, significant collections were donated by important Michigan citizens (E.P. Power, J.M. Plumer, G. Mennen Williams, Walter Koelz) and others, and today the division houses more than 80 collections from East Asia, mainland Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Philippines.
The first curator of the Division of the Orient was Benjamin Marsh, who served from 1933 to 1934. Mr. B. DeVere Begley served as Assistant in the division from 1936 until 1941, when Mrs. Kamer Aga-Oglu joined as Curator. A specialist in Far Eastern art history, she devoted her life's work to researching the division's outstanding collection of Asian ceramics. She described for the first time a whole new range of East Asian ceramics that until then were unknown even among specialists. She documented the pre-European movement of these ceramics throughout the Pacific, to West Asia as far as Turkey, and to East Africa. (Aga-Oglu's catalogs of the Williams Collection are still available through UMMA Publications.)
In 1974, Mrs. Aga-Oglu was succeeded as Curator by Dr. Karl Hutterer. A prehistoric archaeologist, Hutterer's research focused on the archaeology of the Philippines, where he directed a long-term research project. During his tenure, the division developed a commitment to training Asian scholars in the methods and theory of scientific archaeology; students from the Philippines, Japan, Thailand, China, Korea, and India have studied at the University of Michigan from the 1970s through the present.
In 1993, Dr. Carla M. Sinopoli became Curator. A specialist in South Asian archaeology, Sinopoli's research focuses on early historic states and empires and material culture. New collections from Thailand (Robinson Collection) and the Philippines (Scheans Collection) have been added, and research and publication efforts on our older collections continue. Each year, students and scholars from around the world come to the University to work with these important collections.