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    Australia’s role in ‘Southeast Asian Studies’

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    IN-PERSON: Seminar Room 3 (HB3), Hedley Bull Building, 130 Garran Rd Acton ACT 2601

    ONLINE: Zoom. Please select the relevant ticket, in-person or online, according to your preferred attendance mode.

    Australia’s role in ‘Southeast Asian Studies’ as a global phenomenon

    This talk, like the book project of which it is a part, is part analysis and part accounting for my role in things. Despite being drawn into the field by an interest in Indonesia, I became by the 1980s an advocate for ‘Southeast Asia’ as a coherent region of study and academic organisation, and may hold the record for the number of books with ‘Southeast Asia’ in the title (17, I think).

    How did this turn out, and why? ‘Southeast Asian Studies’ can be said to have longest roots in China, Japan and Germany, but became necessary as a category of study in the Anglosphere after World War II, notably in Singapore, the US and Britain. In Australia both government and the popular mood focussed rather on Indonesia, the Malay-speaking world or a vaguer regional sense of ‘the Pacific’. lndonesia as the unknown neighbour in need of help was the great challenge for my post-war generation to understand and even identify with, notably through the Volunteer Graduate Scheme. Malaysia was the more accessible neighbour and academic frontier, experienced for many students through the successful Colombo Plan scholarships. ‘Southeast Asia’ in Australian universities was at first a way to accommodate Malaysia as well as Indonesia, then a gesture to answer the hunger for knowledge about the countries at war in Indo-China, and finally an acknowledgement of American leadership in defining how ‘Area Studies’ would be constructed. We organised the ASAA federally through the regions, like AAS but unlike Northeast Asia and Europe.

    This paper will give a more than slightly autobiographical account of how Australia rose to a kind of global leadership in Southeast Asian Studies in the late 20th century, though for reasons that did not and probably could not last. In comparison with other neighbours of Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, Australia failed to develop an economic base of engagement to sustain the academic involvement.

    Nevertheless we Australians of the lucky generation played a disproportionate role in both defining this field of study and training a new generation of its indigenous scholars.


    Emeritus Professor Anthony Reid 
    joined ANU in 1970 as a Fellow in Pacific History. In 1989-99, he was the Australian National University's first Professor of Southeast Asian History, a description later used also in UCLA and Singapore. His first books were about North Sumatran or Indonesian history, his later ones more often about Southeast Asia.

    Light refreshments after the seminar for in-person attendees. 

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    The ANU Southeast Asia Institute Research Seminar Series is a recurring seminar series that showcases the work of scholars within the ANU working on political, social and cultural issues in Southeast Asia, with the goal of encouraging greater exchange, collaboration and networking amongst the research community.

    the ANU Southeast Asia Institute Research Seminar Series Conveners: 

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