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Looking eastward
Library exhibit celebrates Berkeley’s long tradition of Southeast Asia scholarship

| 20 October 2004

Fifty years ago the campus inaugurated its Southeast Asian Studies program in response to a growing interest in that part of the world following World War II, and government demand for academic expertise on a region considered a central battleground in the Cold War. Beginning with early courses in the departments of anthropology, geography, linguistics, political science, and what was then called Oriental languages, a great surge of scholarly activity followed.


Javanese shadow puppet on loan from Eric Crystal.
One gets some sense of the vigor of this effort from the scores of books and hundreds of theses and dissertations on Southeast Asia that have been penned by Berkeley graduate students and faculty, the strength of the supporting library collection (now 400,000 volumes and counting), the wealth of teaching on Southeast Asia currently available (14 departments together offer more than 30 courses), and the size and dynamism of the community of graduate and undergraduate students currently involved in Southeast Asian studies — a group “unrivaled” in the nation, says Peter Zinoman, director of the campus’s Center for Southeast Asia Studies. “The program’s recent emphasis on the humanities and the ‘softer’ social sciences reflect, I believe, the shift from academic concerns defined by the government to ones issuing directly from the student body,” he says.

A new exhibition in Doe Library, “Southeast Asia: Crossroads of Culture, Politics, and Scholarship, 1954-2004,” honors this long, vibrant, and ongoing tradition at Berkeley. Noteworthy treasures from the Library’s rich Southeast Asia collections — considered the strongest in the western United States — are on display: from an ancient palm-leaf manuscript in Pali and Khmer to a 1965 political leaflet against the war in Vietnam.

Curated by librarian Virginia Jing-yi Shih in collaboration with campus scholars, the Center for Southeast Asia Studies, and library staff, the exhibit highlights in particular the work of Berkeley faculty and alumni, and other Southeast Asia scholars. Its thematically organized display cases focus on Berkeley scholars in the Philippines (beginning with the ninth president of UC, David Prescott Barrows, in the first decade of the 20th century); library materials in Southeast Asian languages (including the five currently taught on campus); scholarly works on politics, history, social transformation, the environment, religion, culture, and the arts; archival materials donated by the McFarlands, an important American missionary family in old Siam; the writings of Indonesia’s most celebrated author and social critic, Pramoedya Ananta Toer; and Western literary works set in Southeast Asia.

The exhibition is on view in the Bernice Layne Brown Gallery, just inside the north entrance to Doe Library, through the end of the year. A related concurrent exhibit of 26 photographs — entitled “Southeast Asian Village Worlds: Indonesia and Vietnam” — by Berkeley-trained anthropologist Eric Crystal is on display adjacent to the Brown Gallery.