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Incorporating Southeast Asia into the World History Curriculum: Why and How?. Dr. Jim Hastings Wingate University. Cultural illiteracy?. What is “wrong” with this scene from Pirates of the Caribbean III?. No ConCEPT.

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incorporating southeast asia into the world history curriculum why and how

Incorporating Southeast Asia into the World History Curriculum: Why and How?

Dr. Jim Hastings

Wingate University

cultural illiteracy
Cultural illiteracy?

What is “wrong” with this scene from Pirates of the Caribbean III?

no concept
No ConCEPT

Here, Chow Yun Fat welcomes Caribbean pirates fleeing the soldiers of the English East India Company to Singapore……in the 18th century!

How many American students know that Singapore was founded in 1819?

How many only know about it from this film?

  • So the “problem” is not just lack of information, but it also concerns why that information/knowledge is not being imparted in college classrooms.
outline
Outline
  • The problem: Why is SE Asia often marginalized in the world history curriculum?
  • Why should SE Asia be included and what should be emphasized?
  • Classical civilizations of SE Asia and their significance in the study of world history.
  • SE Asia and world religions
  • SE Asia and seagoing trade: role and contributions.
  • SE Asia and the study of colonial imperialism
  • Conclusion
why is se asia marginalized
Why is SE Asia marginalized?

I. The “Indochina” problem

Is Southeast Asia “something more than just a geographical space between India and China”?

- O.W. Wolters

For many, the answer is “No”

II. Complex historiography

“…precolonial Southeast Asian historiography was desperately chaotic and difficult to penetrate.”

– Victor Lieberman

III. Relatively little has been written about the region as a whole compared with other regions

on the margins
On the Margins

It’s a vicious circle:

In world/global history courses, for the reasons mentioned, SE Asia is often passed over cursorily

Therefore, most future history professors do not learn much about SE Asia (unless that is their focus)

Most world history professors are self-taught when it comes to regions beyond the scope of their training

Therefore, SE Asia (along with sub-Saharan Africa, pre-Columbian America, and Polynesia) is considered expendable in the interest of time

It seems easier to focus on the “important” regions: India and China

changing historical perspectives complicate the study of se asia
Changing historical perspectives complicate the study of SE Asia
  • Eurocentric, colonial, “externalist” historical perspective until WW II
  • “Indigenous” perspective, especially since 1960s to late 1980s, focusing on local, autonomous histories
  • Age of Commerce (Anthony Reid) thesis, 1988
  • Comparative, global perspectives (Lieberman, 2003)

Victor Lieberman offers this overview of the changing historiography of SE Asia

Textbooks often have outdated historiography, so even those who want to learn more about SE Asia find it daunting.

so why include southeast asia in a world history survey
So why Include Southeast Asia in a world history survey?

I. Though SE Asian civilizations are considered “third wave”, they are still impressive in terms of scale.

In discussing classical civilizations, Pagan and Angkor should be included.

so why include southeast asia in a world history survey1
So why Include Southeast Asia in a world history survey?

II. SE Asia and world religions

Most of the major world religions took root in SE Asia, making it perfect for comparing patterns of syncretism, indigenization, and conversion.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Christianity and Islam are all imported religions that have become localized.

so why include southeast asia in a world history survey2
So why Include Southeast Asia in a world history survey?

III. SE Asia and seagoing trade: role and contributions.

SE Asia was formed by its maritime culture and its contact with other civilizations. It was the destination of Chinese, Indian, Arab, Persian and European traders who wanted its spices and other commodities. It was at the forefront of early globalization.

Any discussion of globalization should include SE Asian entrepôts such as Melaka.

so why include southeast asia in a world history survey3
So why Include Southeast Asia in a world history survey?

IV. SE Asia and the study of colonial imperialism

SE Asia was colonized by the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, British and Americans. It thus makes a good region for the comparative study of colonialisms.

american imperialism
American imperialism

In particular, American imperialism in the Philippines should be included in any module on colonialism.

American students are often shocked to learn the US was indeed an imperialist country.

Such a module should include Kipling’s famous poem on the topic (a warning to the American public), “The White Man’s Burden” which has been interpreted as both pro- and anti-imperialism

colonial attitudes
Colonial attitudes
  • Students are often shocked by literary excerpts that depict the racist attitudes that characterized much of the colonial culture.
  • “‘Good God, what are we supposed to be doing in this country? If we aren't going to rule, why the devil don't we clear out? Here we are, supposed to be governing a set of damn black swine who've been slaves since the beginning of history, and instead of ruling them in the only way they understand, we go and treat them as equals.’”
  • …George Orwell, Burmese Days (1934)
civilizing missions
Civilizing Missions
  • A study of the arguments in the US over whether or not to become an imperial power can be eye-opening.
  • “We are dealing with Orientals. We are dealing with Orientals who are Malays…What alchemy will change the Oriental quality of their blood and set the self-governing currents of the American pouring through their Malay veins?”
  • -- Senator Albert Beveridge speaking in Congress in 1900 in support of an American empire
conclusion
Conclusion
  • In short, for a variety of reasons, SE Asia tends to be marginalized in the US world history/world civilizations/global history curriculum.
  • Sometimes the textbooks deliberately do so, lumping it in with South Asia.
  • More often, professors pass over it due to their own unfamiliarity, the perception that it is “just a geographical space between India and China,” and that it is too complicated.
  • The question then is: How to make the history and cultures of Southeast Asia more vital and more accessible to both professors and students?