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[Talk] Writing as a Marker of Identity in Early South and Southeast Asia

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Readers in Singapore may be interested in this talk by Prof. Himanshu Prabha Ray at the National University of Singapore on 12 September.

Speaker: Prof Himanshu Prabha Ray (Anneliese Maier Fellow, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich)
Date: Wednesday, 12 September 2018
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)

Within the narrative of terrestrial histories of nation states, accounts of maritime cultural heritage often become an extension of land-based concerns. A paradigm shift to understanding the history of the sea destabilizes linear mapping of time and chronologies of political dynasties, empires and trading activity that helped sustain the quest for luxuries. This shift entails re-establishing the centrality of the sea and viewing it not only as a space permitting movement, but as a site of cultural encounters and shared experiences, as expressed through the medium of writing in a common script, i.e. the Brahmi script. The languages expressed were diverse and included Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tamil and Sinhala, as evident from inscriptions on pots recovered in South and Southeast Asia. In this presentation I revisit sites along the east coast of India and investigate maritime networks across Bay of Bengal as indicated by the presence of inscribed pottery recorded in archaeological investigations. An important marker of the interconnectedness of sites extending from lower Bengal to coastal Sri Lanka is the Rouletted Ware, first identified at the well-known site of Arikamedu on the Tamil coast and described by Mortimer Wheeler in 1946 as an indicator of Roman trade. In recent years, not only has Rouletted Ware been found in coastal Malaysia, Thailand, Java, Bali and Vietnam, but rigorous analysis of Tissamaharama in Sri Lanka has helped define its date from 2nd and 3rd century BCE to 1st century BCE. It is also evident that many Rouletted Ware pots were inscribed and continued in circulation for a longer period. Here I will primarily focus on patterns of use/distribution of inscribed pottery in an attempt to emphasise both temporal and spatial variations of cultural contacts across South and Southeast Asia and the extent to which writing was used as a marker of identity in maritime Asia in the centuries around the Common Era. The larger issue being addressed is the circulation of knowledge across the seas and the agency responsible for these circuits. Can these complexities be accommodated as Outstanding Universal Values that can underwrite transnational cultural routes to be nominated for World Heritage status?

Source: ‘Defining Transnational Maritime Cultural Heritage: Writing as a Marker of Identity in early South and Southeast Asia’ (Wednesday, 12 September 2018) – Southeast Asian Studies @ NUS

CFP: International Conference on Managing Urban Cultural Heritage

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An interesting conference to be held in Georgtown, Penang. Deadline for abstracts is 1 March 2018.

2018 marks the 10th anniversary of George Town and Malacca being inscribed as a World Heritage Site. In conjunction with this historical milestone, George Town World Heritage Incorporated is organising the International Conference on Managing Urban Cultural Heritage. The conference will be held from 1 to 4 October 2018 in the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site, Penang, Malaysia.

Cities are historically culturally diverse centers for knowledge, innovation, and memory, and act as a reflection of a society’s identity. They are composed of interconnected layers of natural and cultural, tangible and intangible, international and local values, and are constantly evolving and adapting. The complex and dynamic nature of a city makes the management of a living urban heritage extra challenging, yet meaningful.

This conference aims to bring together stakeholders engaged in the development, conservation, and management of heritage cities. Members of national and local governments, universities and research centers, NGOs, the private sector, community groups, and civil society, are invited to share their successes and challenges in the following ten themes addressing urban heritage management.

International Conference on Managing Urban Cultural Heritage

Categories: Conferences Malaysia

Are Malaysians buying up Indonesia's cultural heritage?

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A rather disturbing report of Malaysian scholars allegedly buying up ancient manuscripts from private owners in the Indonesian Riau Islands (south of Singapore) in a bid “to find proof of their Malay identity”. The idea of Malay identity and ethnicity is a touchy issue in Malaysia, due to affirmative action policies that accord privileges to the Malays over the other ethnicities that share the country. However, this article should be seen in the light of relations between Indonesia and Malaysia, which are not at an all-time high at the moment. A few years ago, Indonesia accused Malaysia of using a traditional Indonesian song to promote Malaysian tourism. The most recent chilling of relations involves Indonesia freeze of domestic helpers working in Malaysia because of recent cases of abuse that has come to light. The reason I’m featuring this story is because, hey, it’s about ancient manuscripts (although most aren’t more than 200 years old so it can’t be that ancient) and it highlights a recurring theme in Indonesia that the government doesn’t have the will or the resources to take care of its own heritage, but are looking to blame Malaysia for buying up what little they have.

M`sians take ancient Malay manuscripts from Riau islands
Antara, 03 June 2009
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Relooked: The Chams, identity and archaeology


Last week I featured a piece on the Phnom Penh post by anthropologist David Lempert about the Cham and statelessness, which suggest how archaeology can help the Cham reconnect with their lost heritage. Three scholars working in Cambodia (one of which is Alison in Cambodia) reply with their disagreements to the archaeological examples in Lempert’s argument.

[22 October update: You can find the full-length article (as the Phnom Penh Post article was cut for space) in Alison’s site here.]

Identity beyond origin: The Cham
Phnom Penh Post, 17 October 2008
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ARI Conference on Cultural Management in Southeast Asia

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25-27 July 2006

organised by
Asia Research Institute
National University of Singapore

National Library Board
Imagination and Possibilities Room, Level 5
100 Victoria Street, Singapore

Cultural Resource Management (CRM) concerns the nexus between economic development, tourism, preservation, and commodification. The goal of CRM is sustainable management of cultural resources, which entails the need to generate some form of economic return. The convergence between development and preservation is often tense, demanding compromise and negotiation. The goals of the frequently used concept of ‘sustainability’ appear self-evident, but those who espouse them often find themselves caught in the midst of political, social and intellectual contestation. Conflicts between short-term versus long-term, local versus global, and restoration versus regeneration pose perennial quandaries.

Southeast Asian cultures are under intense pressure on many fronts. Many cultural resources are at critical junctures; their future existence depends on rapid development and implementation of effective management strategies. Culture and cultural resources represent a vital asset for tourism across Southeast Asia. Tourism, however, transforms while it entraps, restores while it erodes, cultivates while it restricts. Rapid socio-economic development creates constant flux in the cultural landscape of the region. Culture remains a contested territory where projects of nation building and localized identity constructions intersect with trans-national neo-liberal economic policies and cultural paradigms driven by a global civil society.

Understanding CRM in Southeast Asia in such terms requires an interdisciplinary approach. This conference promises to create a dialogue between scholars from numerous disciplines, ranging from geography to economics. Diverse representatives of various backgrounds, from inside and outside the region, will be brought together. The views of entrepreneurs will be solicited.

The conference will develop the themes of tourism and its alternatives as management strategies; mitigation of the effects of tourism and other developmental forces; museums; site preservation; and legal issues. One goal of the conference is to encourage contributors to propose innovative approaches to CRM in a Southeast Asian context–i.e. not an application of Euro-American concepts of CRM, which don’t work very well in many situations in Southeast Asia where funding is limited, concepts of ownership of land and cultural resources are different, governmental structure and authority have different roles, etc. The conference will also critically reflect upon how “cultural resources” come to be defined, the intersections between so-called tangible and intangible cultural forms and the complex relationship between community participation, cultural sovereignty and the politics of cultural utilization.

In a region characterized by post-colonial sensibilities and a number of post-conflict societies, the role of culture as a purveyor of identity, memory and historical continuity is of critical importance as flows of international capital increasingly embed themselves in, and thus transform, places at the local level. In examining such issues, the conference promises to focus upon CRM with an analytical sensitivity toward the local context as well as broader global processes. Examining CRM in such terms will ensure the concept of ‘sustainability’ is interrogated in a more rigorous and comprehensive manner than has been previously attempted.

The conference is aimed at two audiences: academics, including scholars and students, and CRM professionals including Euro-Americans who are interested in theoretical innovations and new ways of dealing with practical CRM issues.

Observers are welcome to attend the conference, with no registration fee. However, limited spaces are available. If you wish to attend as an observer, please kindly email your name, affiliation / organization, contact number and email address to Ms Rina Yap at

For more details visit the NUS: Asia Research Institute website.

Categories: Conferences

CFP: Making Southeast Asian Cultures: From Region to World

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Papers are being sought for the the UB Berkely-UCLA Southeast Asian Studies conference, focusing on social sciences and the humanities. Southeast Asian Archaeology represent!

UC Berkeley-UCLA Southeast Asian Studies Conference
Making Southeast Asian Cultures: From Region to World

April 22-23, 2016
At UC Berkeley

Southeast Asia is inherently transcultural. Colonization and religious conversion and change have left an indelible mark. Over the centuries, the region has also been a hub connecting China to the rest of the world, while in the modern era popular culture links many Southeast Asian countries to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and India. Because of the political, religious and cultural diversity of the region, the problem of whether there are cultural formations specific to Southeast Asia has been a central question of Southeast Asian Studies. To take an exemplary case, the theory of mandala interstate relations was crucial to O.W. Wolters’s argument that Southeast Asia was something more than just a geographical space between India and China, being historically characterized by cultural communalities and intra-regional relationships.

Culture also has an important role in the projected integration of Southeast Asia into an ASEAN Community. One of its three pillars, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, is entrusted with the task of building ASEAN identity and an ASEAN sense of belonging by “fostering greater awareness of the diverse cultures and heritage of the ASEAN region” in order to enable “ASEAN peoples to recognize their regional identity and relatedness”. The governments and policy-making bodies of Southeast Asian countries are, however, notably vague about what exactly constitutes ASEAN cultural identity and heritage or whether it is even appropriate to speak of an “ASEAN mindset”.

The aim of this conference, jointly sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at UC Berkeley (Director: Prof. Pheng Cheah) and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UCLA (Director: Prof. George Dutton), is to reopen this question of Southeast Asia’s culture both by looking back at the history of the region and at the dynamic transnational processes at work in contemporary globalization that actively make Southeast Asian cultures today.

For example, how have Indian Ocean trade and religious networks shaped various aspects of Southeast Asian culture and how has their localization in Southeast Asia in turn inflected these networks? In the field of contemporary art, are the different arts communities in Southeast Asia connected to and contemporary with each to other? Can we speak of a self-conscious regional identity among these communities so that visual artists from Burma who are relatively new to international art practices and discourses can be curated alongside artists from highly “globalized” Singapore in an international biennale? In the field of film studies, how have the Shaw and Cathay film empires, which were multilingual and multicultural, established a foundation for Southeast Asian film? In literary studies, has the public phenomenality of literary festivals and literature prizes such as the Man Asia Literary Prize or the Ramon Magsaysay Award in Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts helped to create a body of Southeast Asian literary works?

The conference seeks to understand the production of Southeast Asian cultures by drawing on different humanities and social science disciplines such as art history, film and visual studies, literary studies, music, anthropology, history, geography, architecture and urban studies. By self-consciously adopting a world perspective and transnational frame in the study of Southeast Asia, the conference hopes to correct the normative Eurocentrism of the disciplines, their methodological nationalism, and the relative undertheorizing of Southeast Asia in Asian studies.

The organizers invite submissions for presentations from scholars and graduate students conducting original research in the social sciences and humanities that address the primary themes of the conference. Some travel funding is available, with priority for funding directed towards faculty and graduate students at UC and CSU campuses. The conference will be held at the UC Berkeley campus,

Abstracts (up to 500 words) should be sent to CSEAS at UC Berkeley by Friday, January 8, 2016. Abstracts should include your name, affiliation and discipline and contact information (including e-mail address).

Contact: CSEAS, 1995 University Ave., 520H, Berkeley CA 94720-2318
Tel: (510) 642-3609; Fax: (510) 643-7062; E-mail:

The Center for Southeast Asia Studies at UC Berkeley and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UCLA form a consortium U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Asian Art History at the Asia Research Institute

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Dr Moore’s presentation “Public Art and the Shwedagon in the 19-20th century” might be of interest to readers of this blog. The roundtable on Asian Art History is happening TOMORROW (29 September 2009) at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore. Details and registration here.

Asian Art History Roundtable
Public Art and the Shwedagon in the 19-20th century (Dr Elizabeth Moore)
Date: Tuesday, 29 Sep 2009
Time: 4 – 5.30pm
Venue: ARI Seminar Room, Tower Block Level 10, National University of Singapore @ BTC
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Ageless charm of the keris

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30 May 2006 (New Straits Times) – The Keris or Kris is a Malay blade that is a distiguishable piece of Malay material culture. The Muzium Negara also has an excellent collection of keris.

Ageless charm of the keris

BUSINESSMAN Rusnan Ngadio shares his experience with the keris (a traditional Malay dagger) with the layman through his collection of more than 5,000 handmade blades worth RM100,000.

“A civilisation is reflected by its cultural heritage and once that knowledge in arts and craft is lost, all will be gone. Today, there are fewer than a dozen keris makers in Peninsular Malaysia. If their trade is not preserved, we will definitely lose our cultural identity,” said the 43-year-old.

CFP: Archaeology, Heritage, and Nationalism in Southeast Asia

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Rising Voices in Southeast Asian Studies – A SEAC / AAS Initiative with Support from the journal, TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia

Submission Deadline: June 15, 2018

The Southeast Asia Council (SEAC) of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is seeking paper proposals from up-and-coming scholars to join a “Rising Voices” panel on the broad topic of “Archaeology, Heritage, and Nationalism in Southeast Asia.” We seek to recruit early career scholars from Southeast Asian countries in order to form a panel for eventual inclusion in the 2019 Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, to be held in Denver, CO from March 21-24, 2019.

The panel will be chaired by Dr. Nam C. Kim, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Once paper presenters have been selected, the chair, along with Dr. Oona Paredes, Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, will assist the panelists in preparing a panel abstract, facilitate revision of individual paper proposals, and offer mentoring and networking support to the panel participants, as needed.

With financial support from the AAS and the journal TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia, SEAC will be able to offer modest travel support to certain members of the panel with demonstrated need in traveling to the conference from Southeast Asia. It is hoped that participation in the panel will also enable scholars to obtain funding from other sources, including the individual country groups at AAS, as well as their home institutions, to stay for the whole conference. Once the panel is formed, the organizers will also make every effort to help panelists seek additional funding on the basis of demonstrated need. Upon completion of the conference, authors will be encouraged to submit their papers to TRaNS for potential publication, subject to peer-review.

Panel Topic Details

For the 2019 Rising Voices Panel, we seek to build a panel related to the broad topic of “Archaeology, Heritage, and Nationalism in Southeast Asia.” The exact panel description will be developed and refined once panelists have been selected, but the topic is designed to be inclusive enough to solicit a wide range of applicants for variant themes.

Papers should build on the recognition that notions about the recent or distant past can play an important role in the formulation of ideas around national identity, ethnicity, cultural heritage, and perceptions of inclusion and exclusion. This is especially so in post-colonial contexts. Contributors are free to present research related to these broad themes from any disciplinary angle, using materials that are archaeological, historical, or contemporary. Related sub-topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • Appropriations of the past for nationalistic or political agendas
  • Contested constructions of history or national meta-narratives
  • Identity formation and notions of ethnicity
  • Challenges and opportunities in the interpretation of archaeological data
  • Conflicts over cultural heritage materials and properties, as related to ownership, access, and management
  • Culturally significant or sacred landscapes or artifacts
  • Commodification of the past, tourism, and economic development

While an emphasis on Southeast Asia is a requisite, comparisons with other Asian regions are welcomed and encouraged.

Eligibility and Selection Criteria

We seek papers by Southeast Asian scholars who are early career scholars, or “rising voices.” Rising voices are defined here as advanced graduate students (currently writing dissertations based on original field or archival research) or untenured faculty members (including tenure-track assistant professors, adjuncts, and lecturers, or the approximate equivalent based on the academic tradition from which the scholar is coming). Applicants may be currently enrolled as students in, or employed by, any institution of higher education in the world. However, preference may be placed on students or faculty currently based at underfunded institutions in Late Developing Countries (LDC) in Southeast Asia. (Please note that the definition of LDC used by the AAS excludes the following Asian countries: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of China (Taiwan), Republic of Korea (South Korea), and Singapore). In addition to the stated goal of supporting rising voices from Southeast Asia, the primary criteria for selection will be the quality of the paper proposals as well as the way selected proposals work together as a viable panel.

Submission Instructions

To submit a paper proposal, please submit the following, in the order listed below, all in a single Microsoft word file or pdf document, by June 15, 2018:

  • Applicant’s Name, affiliation, and contact information, clearly indicating applicant’s country of birth and current country of residence.
  • Paper abstract. 250 words in the format of the standard AAS paper proposal.
  • Brief bio-sketch of 200-300 words describing current and recent scholarly positions, a brief sentence or two about current research, and any significant publications. The model for this should be the standard blurb one sees on a faculty or graduate student website.
  • Current curriculum vitae.
  • Please save the file with the following filename convention: RisingVoices2019_ApplicantsFamilyName.doc

Completed applications should be sent via email to Dr. Nam C. Kim ( and Dr. Oona Paredes ( by June 15, 2018, with the subject heading of “2019 SEAC Rising Voices Proposal.”

Notes on Funding

This proposed panel is part of the “Rising Voices Initiative” which was initiated in 2013 by the Southeast Asia Council of the Association of Asian Studies in order to help supplement the limited amount of existing funding to support participation of young Southeast Asian scholars in the annual AAS Conference. Funding has been generously allocated for this project by the AAS Board of Directors and has been supplemented for the 2019 AAS Conference by TRaNS journal.

Application Timeline

  • May 2018: Call for papers published
  • June 15, 2018: Applications due by email to and
  • July 1, 2018: Notice of selected papers sent out to applicants
  • July 1 – August 1, 2018: Panel description revised, individual paper proposals revised in communication with panel chair, Dr. Nam C. Kim, and Dr. Oona Paredes
  • August 1, 2018: Panel Submission Deadline to AAS

TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia is a journal in the field of Southeast Asian studies published by the Cambridge University Press.  TRaNSencourages globally engaged writings on Southeast Asia that cross national borders and disciplinary boundaries.