Southeast Asia Courses 2023-2024
Contemporary Southeast Asia through Literature and Film
This course will explore contemporary literature and cinema across Southeast Asia, focusing on regional developments after the Asian financial crisis of 1997 through the present. Themes discussed include literature’s relationship to economic turmoil and political change; questions of class and social mobility; anti-authoritarian writing and issues of censorship; literature, youth culture, and new media landscapes; and literary explorations of gender and sexuality. Readings will include a selection of critical essays to foreground these central themes of the course, along with poetry, short fiction, and films from: Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. Readings will be taught in English translation and films will be screened with English subtitles.
Modern Southeast Asia
Likely Spring 2025
A lecture survey of the modern history of Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines from 1800 to the present comparing the experience and aftermath of British, French, Dutch, Spanish and US imperialism in the region.
Art of Monsoon Asia: Interconnected Histories
Monsoon Asia refers to the area of the globe where climates are determined or profoundly affected by the monsoon, from the Himalayas, to the islands of Indian Ocean, all the way to the Japanese archipelago. Focusing on the impact of monsoons in South and Southeast Asia, the course explores the common patterns and traits of the art of Monsoon Asia. How was the monsoon and its impact conceptualized in art?
The main learning goal of the course is to understand how artistic means were harnessed to conceptualize, cope with, and tame environmental challenges posed by monsoons and long-distance travels, often facilitated by the monsoon winds, in pre-modern times. From water management to water symbolism, from impressive temples that mark auspicious arrivals to itinerant objects like ivories and amulets that moved with travelers across Monsoon Asia, we will look at diverse sites and objects that date between the fifth through the sixteenth centuries and attempt to connect the dots between ports and uncover hidden narratives of long-distance travels and travails of dealing with environmental challenges in pre-modern times. The course challenges the diffusionist model of influence in understanding trans-regional interactions and introduces ways to discuss interconnected histories using digital tools. The course will introduce basic tools of digital art history and students will be asked to contribute to a course exhibition site with annotated maps and research pages as part of their final projects.
Permanent Impermanence: Why Buddhists Build Monuments
Why do Buddhists build monuments despite the core teaching of ephemerality, and what can we learn from this paradox about our own conception of time and space?
Everything changes. This is, in its simplest and most fundamental formulation, one of the essential teachings of Buddhism. Buddhist communities throughout history have preached, practiced, and written about the ephemerality and illusoriness of our everyday lives and experiences. Ironically, however, many of these same communities have attempted to express these teachings in the form of monumental structures meant to stand the test of time. Some of the world’s greatest cultural heritage sites are a legacy of this seeming contradiction between the impermanence that is a central presupposition of Buddhist thought and the permanence to which these same monuments seem to aspire. If the world is characterized by emptiness and the Self is illusory, how does one account for the prodigious volume of art and architecture created by Buddhists throughout history? This Gen Ed course takes a multicultural and reflective engagement with the challenges presented by this conundrum through a study of Buddhist sites scattered throughout time and space. Pertinent topics such as cosmology, pilgrimage, materiality, relics, meditation, and world-making will be explored. Through these Buddhist monuments in South and Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, Central Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, students will learn about the rich, diverse world of Buddhist practice and experience.
Medieval Islam: An Age of Revolutions
This course covers a millennium of history unfolding between Morocco and Indonesia. You will learn how the rise of one of the largest empires in human history, the Islamic Caliphate, forever changed the face of Afro-Eurasia, and how the societies that emerged out of this historical Big Bang initiated some of the most revolutionary transformations of the medieval period. This is the story of the astonishing achievement of mighty empires, pious mystics, and adventurous merchants, but also of the unsung toil of the common people who made medieval Islamic civilization possible: the peasants, the workers, the women, the enslaved.
The Global South Asian Diaspora
Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, people of South Asian heritage emigrated out of their ancestral homelands in vast numbers, giving rise to one of the world’s largest and most geographically scattered diasporas. An estimated thirty million people of South Asian heritage live outside the Indian subcontinent today, with significant communities in the United Kingdom, the United States, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and the Middle East. How and why did South Asians choose to settle in new countries? In what ways did the act of emigration transform their sense of religious, ethnic, caste, and racial identity? How did their lives become bound up with those of other displaced or colonized people – in Africa, the Caribbean, and in the Americas? This course is divided into two units. We will begin by analyzing the “old” South Asian diaspora in countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Consulting a mix of primary sources from the colonial archives, historical scholarship, memoirs, and recent fiction, we will reconstruct the life-worlds of indentured laborers, sailors, soldiers, and migrant traders in the nineteenth century. The second unit shifts focus to more recent history: postcolonial migration from South Asian countries to the United States, United Kingdom and the Middle East. Reconstructing the history of immigration law in these countries, we will analyze memoirs, films, and literary texts that explore the ambiguous place of desis in the 'First world'. Besides celebrated contemporary writers like Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Mohsin Hamid, we will also engage with the work of lesser-known figures like Gaiutra Bahadur, Peggy Mohan, and M.G. Vassanji.
Refugees in Global Perspective
The recent arrival of refugees at the U.S.'s southern border and into Europe has caught citizens and policy-makers off guard. Yet such forced migration will continue to rock our globalized world in coming decades. Why are there so many refugees? How are they displaced? Where do they travel, and why? This course will inquire into the nature, causes and consequences of contemporary refugee waves. Students will survey regional dynamics in the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and North America. We will examine the particularities of refugees (compared to other migrants) and the changing nature of forced migration since the Second World War. Students will explore historical precedents to contemporary waves, learn about different host society approaches to asylum, compare government and criminal mechanisms of forced migration, and examine the reasons refugees are the object of increasing suspicion and hostility around the world. Particular attention will be paid to Central American migration into the U.S., the recent EU crisis, the role of refugee camps in the 21st century, and alternative strategies for global asylum management by bridge and destination countries.
Corporate Power & Human Rights—Community Resistance and Social Movements
How do the seemingly most marginalized take on the most powerful corporations in the world and win? In this seminar, we will delve into this question and what drives community resistance and social movements in the face of frequently daunting odds. We will zero in on community resistance in its many forms when confronting abusive corporations and authoritarian governments often supporting them. Through case studies involving natural gas in Myanmar, gold mining in Papua New Guinea, and chocolate in West Africa, we will discuss both the harms communities experience and how communities can have a seat at the table to demand their rights and take on oppressive systems. We will also look at how North America is implicated in these cases and consider the power dynamics between communities, advocates, businesses, and states that span borders and different cultures. We will also look at ways that communities can build their own power through the solidarity economy and how advocates cannot only combat economic injustice but build their visions of economic justice for the future.
Language, Script, and Power in East Asia
Si Nae Park
How do we speak, write, and think and feel about the languages we know and use? This seminar introduces students to ideas about language, language structure, and language use—ideologies about language and script—that have shaped society, culture, and literature within the East Asian context (China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam). Readings—all in English—are drawn from multiple disciplines and fields to provide students with opportunities to examine comparatively a wide-ranging topics. Topics to explore include the rise of written vernaculars in the Sinographic Cosmopolis of pre-twentieth-century East Asia, linguistic modernity, nationalization of language and literature, script reform, colonial governance and racialization, empire building, decolonization, linguistic hybridity, translation, and questions of rupture vs. continuity when discussing premodernity vs. modernity in East Asia.
Americans as Occupiers and Nation-Builders
Andrew Gordon & Erez Manela
How have US military occupations abroad, such as in the Philippines, Japan, and most recently Afghanistan and Iraq, shaped both the United States and the world?
The United States has launched numerous projects of military occupation and nation-building in foreign lands since the late 19th century. These have been contradictory enterprises, carrying ideals of freedom and self-determination "offered" by force or by fiat. This course will assess the meanings and legacies of these projects by examining the ideas, strategies, policies, and outcomes of occupations ranging from the Philippines early on, to Japan, Germany, Korea, and Vietnam to, most recently, Afghanistan and Iraq. The course focuses on American activities and ideas but also examines the responses of the occupied.
Indian Ocean Islam
Ali Asani & Teren Sevea
Does thinking oceanically influence the study of Islam? Can we remember a people’s history of the Indian Ocean world? This course considers these questions and others as it focuses on religious worlds within port cities and the networks of Indian Ocean Islam. The course examines how religion in port cities and islands was centered upon a plethora of saints, missionaries, divinities and other agents of Islam, who have been marginalized in academic literature on the Indian Ocean. It simultaneously examines how oceanic religion was intimately connected to economic, political and technological developments. Students will be introduced to scholarship on oceanic Islam and monsoon Islam, before they are introduced to a variety of sources on transregional Islamic networks and agents of Islam, including biographies, hagiographies, travelogues, novels, poems and ethnographic accounts. Students will, moreover, be encouraged to consider ways in which approaches to studying Islam could be enhanced by a focus on religious economies and networks, as well as the lives of ‘subalterns’ who crossed the porous borders of the Indian Ocean world and shaped its religious worlds.
Asia in the World - Regional Security, Integration and Ideology
What are the factors that hold Asia together, or run the risk of pulling it apart? This course examines contemporary Asia, one of the most politically and economically dynamic regions of the world, exploring how far it can be seen as one region and how complex the forces within it are. The course examines how economic, trade and commercial networks in Asia such as RCEP, CPTPP and IPEF show new patterns of economic interaction and creation of norms on trade and technology. It examines the very different political systems and ideas that shape the region, from established democracies to personality-cult driven authoritarian politics, and how regional organizations such as ASEAN navigate these differences. We will also explore how wider cross-national forces have shaped norms across the region: Northeast Asia has significantly older demographics than Southeast Asia, policies on climate change vary across the region, and trends relating to ethnicity and gender have also shaped new and transformative political movements, some creating new civil society dynamics across borders. Although largely peaceful in recent years on a regional scale, there are numerous civil wars still active and unresolved, as well as significant refugee and population movement across borders. We also look at potential flashpoints, such as the India-China border and the Korean peninsula. The course will also draw on a wider historical perspective to illustrate how ideas of “Asia” have changed over time, and why that matters for interpreting the region. The legacy of World War II still plays a significant part in the international dynamics of Northeast Asia, shaping the difficult relationship between Japan, China and South Korea. The legacy of the period of revolutionary communism shapes societies across the region, including North Korea and Vietnam. In South Asia, the legacy of a turbulent partition has led to continuing tensions. The historical aspect provides vital context to explain the motivations and dynamics of the present day. Overall, the course seeks to illustrate the most important factors that shape one of the world’s most dynamic regions.
The Rise of Authoritarian Populism
The rise of authoritarian populist forces in recent years has generated new challenges in many affluent societies and long-established democracies, such as the US, UK, Germany, Italy, Greece, and France, as well as shaping the politics of states worldwide, such as in Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines, Thailand, and India. What explains these forces? What are the consequences? And what can be done to mitigate the risks? This course analyzes these issues from a comparative perspective, to understand American politics in a broader context. The course covers: (i) the core concepts and meanings of authoritarian populism and the classification of parties and leaders; (ii) explanations focused on cultural value change, economic grievances, issues of race, ethnicity, and immigration, electoral rules, and party competition; (iii) the impact on the civic culture and the policy agenda; and (iv) alternative strategic policy responses. The course is assessed through one workgroup mid-term report and one individual final research paper. Pedagogy includes a ‘flipped classroom’ where you are asked to view the weekly lecture video before the class. The weekly class meeting will focus on discussing these materials. Small workgroups will meet weekly outside of class to discuss topics further. Some statistical skills are an advantage but not essential.
Management, Finance, and Regulation of Public Infrastructure in Developing Countries
This course explores efforts to manage, finance, and regulate the transportation, water, sanitation, and energy infrastructure systems in developing countries. Issues to be discussed include public-private partnerships (PPPs), the fundamentals of project finance, contract and discretionary regulation, corruption, stakeholder involvement, and managing the political and strategic context in which infrastructure decisions are made. The course will rely on case material taken from infrastructure projects in developing countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Laos, Argentina, Chile, Lesotho, Uganda, Madagascar, and India, as well as some developed countries, including the United Kingdom, and Australia.
Modern Housing and Urban Districts: Concepts, Cases, and Comparisons
This seminar course deals with ‘modern housing’ covering a period primarily from the 1900s to the present. It engages with ‘urban districts’ in so far as the housing projects under discussion contribute to the making of these districts, and are in-turn shaped by the districts in which they are placed. Cases will be drawn from different contexts, with emphasis on Europe, North America, and East Asia, although also including examples from the Americas, South and Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Oceania.
Origins and Contemporary Practices of Asian Landscape Architecture: Korean Perspectives and More
Jung Yoon Kim
The term “Asian” can be misleading; it conjures images of one identity that can be applied to all 51 countries in Asia. Scholars and practitioners, such as William Lim, Jillian Walliss, and Heike Rahmann, have elaborated on the inevitable complexities associated with identity in Asia’s landscapes, architecture, and urban practices. In his book Asian Alterity (Hackensack, N.J.: World Scientific, c2008), William Lim argues that most of the urban development processes in Asian countries can rarely be explained using Western theories. He also invited architects and landscape architects from nine Asian cities to write about their singularities. On the other hand, in The Big Asian Book of Landscape Architecture (Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2020), Walliss and Rahmann claim that Asia is a method, not an identity, and write extensively about several practices and various aspects of “being in the landscape profession in Asia.” Taking all of this into consideration, what can students expect to discuss and learn in this class? Furthermore, why Korean perspectives?
In this seminar, we will deploy a particular lens to examine the onset of the contemporary landscape architecture profession in a few Asian countries and how their respective origins have shaped and are shaping each country’s landscape. Korea will be used as a case study through which the practices of other countries—China, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand—can be revealed since Korea’s landscape practices had an obvious initiator (i.e., former President Mr. Park) and a single strong motivation (i.e., post-war reforestation). Additionally, this course aims to promote further and in-depth discussions about other countries (beyond these five).
The Rohingya Camps; Permanence in Transition
The Rohingya refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh host the largest refugee population in the world. The Rohingyas are a Muslim, ethnic-minority people who live in the Rakhine state in west Myanmar. For a long time, they have been finding their way into Bangladesh to escape persecution in their country. Following the violent persecution of 2017, there was huge influx of about 800,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh. Currently there are more than 1.2 million refugees living in these camps.