Between orientalism and nationalism: the learned society and the making of "Southeast Asia"

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Departing from the “Orientalist” view of the learned society in South Asia, this paper examines the role of the learned society in Southeast Asia as a site of sociability and intellectual exchange. It traces the emergence of such societies as independent, rather than official, initiatives, from nineteenth-century societies in Singapore to the Siam Society and Burma Research Society in the early twentieth century. Their journals provided pluralist interpretations of the nation, turning from grand histories of kings to new practices of social history. While such societies were limited to a small circle of European and Asian literati, they also contributed to an emerging intellectual culture of libraries, public lectures, and universities. Moreover, via correspondence, travel, and exchanges of publications, such societies contributed to a growing sense of Southeast Asian regionalism, laying the institutional foundations for in-depth study for the region and the post-war emergence of Southeast Asian studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353
Number of pages374
JournalModern Intellectual History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • orientalism
  • southeast asia
  • learned society
  • nationalism
  • sociability
  • intellectuals
  • Thailand
  • Malaysia
  • Burma


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