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History Always Wins: How the past shapes the present in SEA

0900–1030, Thursday 14 April 2016, C3

Kevin Fogg
University of Oxford

List of Panels: 

  • Screening the Evils of Southeast Asian History: A 21st Century Remembrance through Films
  • Politics, Culture and Resource Endowments: A History of Cattle, Leather and Shoes in Thailand, 1850-1997
  • After Bandung: The Changing Discourse of Souvereignty in Southeast Asia after 1955
  • Sensing the past Asian landscapes


Paper 1: Screening the Evils of Southeast Asian History: A 21st Century Remembrance through Films

Darlene Machell Espena
Nanyang Technological University

This paper explores the various cinematic depictions of “evils from the past” within the context of contemporary Southeast Asia. Focusing on the two cases of the Philippines and Indonesia, I investigate how contemporary films remember and portray two lingering historical evils, the remnant of colonialism and the communist purge, in the memory and narratives of these countries. On the one hand, Indonesia has yet to come to terms with the communist purge of 1965, spearheaded by the then President Suharto, where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people suspected to be communists or were tortured and killed in a massive campaign against communism. Using Joshua Oppenheimer and Christie Cynn’s controversial film, “The Act of Killing,” I present how evil is epitomized in the real-life character of Anwar Congo – then a young thug hired to murder hundreds of Indonesians during the purge. I further examine the spectrum of representations of evil, from a penitent one to an unabashed. On the other hand, the Philippines, in a series of historical films, recollect their colonial past and the time of distress and oppression under the American rule. Utilizing the film “Heneral Luna: Bayan o Sarili” (General Luna: Nation or Self), I probe into the process by which evils of colonialism does not merely include the deeds and blunders of the Americans but the Filipino elite’s own “betrayal” of the nation, their own attempt to collaborate with the Americans and absconding the ideals of the Philippine Revolution. Through depicting the hero, General Luna, the film inevitably depicts the evil as well. I argue that film serves as a 21st century platform for coming to terms with the evils from the past. I further argue that evil in today’s milieu is neither homogenous nor monotonous. It is represented in a spectrum of images and in varying degrees of evilness.


Paper 2: Politics, Culture and Resource Endowments: A History of Cattle, Leather and Shoes in Thailand, 1850-1997

Thomas Bruce
SOAS, University of London

In the nineteen-nineties Thailand’s footwear industry experienced an unprecedented boom in exports placing the country among the world’s top footwear manufacturers. While much of this boom was explained by the new transnational brand manufacturing and the athletic shoe ascendancy, an ‘organic’ core of indigenous leather shoe manufacturers also profited during this period and indeed may have done much to initiate it. Thailand’s competitiveness was not due only to cheaper labour costs. Yet their expansion was limited by deficiencies in domestic leather supply. This paper examines the historical backdrop to the boom and the possible reasons for these deficiencies, further upstream, in the country’s cattle and tanning industries. In doing so, it examines the historical development and characteristics of one of the country’s lesser known natural resource endowments, and highlights the way the exploitation of such endowments may be shaped and buffeted by politics and culture.
Paper 3: After Bandung: The Changing Discourse of Sovereignty in Southeast Asia after 1955

Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar
University of Sheffield

This paper aims to understand the transformation of sovereignty discourse in third world countries after the 1955 Bandung Conference. The post-world war international politics has witnessed the emergence of “third world consciousness” through the 1955 Bandung Conference (see Hardt, 2003; Berger, 1998). In many international relations literatures, the ‘Bandung Conference’ has been considered as a milestone of decolonization in world politics (see Jones et. al, 2006; Nesadurai, 2010; Berger, 1998; Chakrabarty, 2005). However, it was also evident that events following the Bandung Conference did not necessarily reflect the spirit of Bandung Conference. While Asian and African Leaders were able to inspire many resistance forces to declare its independence from colonialism and therefore succeed in establishing a new nation-state, there have been transformations in such ways the states govern their territories and populations. Southeast Asia is a model of transformation followed by the emergence of new authoritarian regimes that construct their legitimacy with capitalist mode of production (see Robison 1986; Slater 2010). The transformation was getting more complex with the development of regionalism under the banner of ASEAN. By using historical sociology approach and ‘regional’ level of analysis, this paper attempts to answer these following questions: (1) how did the discourse of sovereignty transform in Southeast Asia after 1955? (2) Under what social and political did the transformation occur in the region? and (3) how did the transformation affect the formation of regionalism in Southeast Asia, particularly after the idea of ASEAN Community was established in 2003?


Paper 4: Sensing the past Asian landscapes.

Kasper Hanus
Adam Mickiewicz University

The aerial archaeology is in use in the research on Asia’s past since 30’s of the 20th century. However the rapid technological development of last twenty years snowballed the investigation of the past landscapes from air and space. The aim of my paper, that summarises my experience of working with various technologies of airborne and spaceborne remote sensing, including LiDAR, UAVs or satellite images in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos) and beyond (China, Kazakhstan, Nepal), is to provoke the discussion about the state of the arts of landscape studies and its methodology in Asia. The main issues I shall address are: how do the archaeologists working in Southeast Asia benefit from new methods of landscape prospection?; is the archaeology of the South-East Asia “isolated” from modern methodology?; what have we recently achieved and “where is this revolution leading us”?