Abstracts by Author

Nicolas Salem-Gervais and Rosalie Metro

Volume 16
"A Textbook Case of Nation-Building: The Evolution of History Curricula in Myanmar"

This article aims to analyze the history curriculum used in primary and secondary schools under the SLORC/SPDC from the perspective of the State's nation-building endeavors. To do so, we provide some background on history textbooks during colonial, parliamentary, and socialist eras, and then describe three shifts in discourse on national identity in post-socialist Myanmar: the replacement of Aung San by the Great Kings as main national references, the projection of "Myanmar" identity back in history, and the designation of Thais, along with British colonialists, as historical enemies of the nation. We argue that those shifts constituted a step away from a national identity based on some extent of inter-ethnic compromise, toward one based on an ancient and glorious indigenous essence. We then examine the textbooks of two ethno-nationalist groups, the KNU and the SSA-S to illustrate the discursive similarities across political boundaries.

While revisions of national history are common around the world and might even be a sine qua non for the emergence of a nation, we suggest that the SLORC/SPDC's narrow conception of national identity, coupled with the underfunding of the welfare state and especially education, has often been counter-productive to state aims, undermining the success of schooling as a tool of nation-building and lending legitimacy to radical ethno-nationalist conceptions of history and identity.

Mikael Gravers

Volume 19
Disorder as Order: The Ethno-Nationalist Struggle of the Karen in Burma/Myanmar   

Burma’s 66 years civil war is the longest armed conflict in the world. This article analyses the complexity of one of the many ethnic armed conflicts between the Karen and the state. The Karen ethno-nationalist struggle is rooted in the ethnic categorization and identity politics of colonial order, which has influences the political orders after independence. Al living generations in Burma have to some extend experienced violence. Violent disorder and memory of suffering and victimhood dominate a majority of the Karen. The author argue that the prolonged violent conflict has widened the ethnic incompatibilities and impacts the current ceasefire negotiations. Internalsegmentation of the Karen society as well as internal divisions and conflicts has also had a considerable impact upon the track of this conflict. Cultural, religious and political diversity among the Karen – and other ethnic groups – further complicates prospects for a political solution to the armed struggle.

Alexandra Green

Volume 10
"Deep Change? Burmese Wall Paintings from the Eleventh to the Nineteenth Centuries" pp.1-50

This article will compare the narrative constructions of early (eleventh to thirteenth centuries) and late (seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries) Burmese wall paintings to determine whether or not “deep change” has occurred. Although many of the same stories were depicted in the murals during both time periods, the method by which the visual stories were portrayed changed from an emphasis upon iconic imagery to an exploration of narrative process. By analyzing the narrative modes employed during the two periods, the emphases of each are revealed. The changes that occurred in the Burmese murals most likely relate to the increasing orthodoxy of Burmese Theravada Buddhism and strengthening crown control over the country. Because the teleological purpose of the murals remains virtually identical, however, it is argued that no “deep change” occurred in the murals between the eleventh and nineteenth centuries.

Alexandra Green

Volume 15
"From Gold Leaf to Buddhist Hagiographies: Contact with Regions to the East Seen in Late Burmese Murals"

Color Illustrations

In 1767 the Burmese army sacked the Thai city of Ayutthaya, and multitudes of people were captured and relocated to the Burmese central zone, including artists and theatrical performers. This event has been considered seminal in the emergence of Thai influences on Burmese art, including mural painting. Yet, Burmese deportations of people from the Thai, Lan Na, Sipsong Panna, and Shan States regions occurred on a number of occasions prior to the late eighteenth century attack. And, trade networks and religious exchanges between monasteries formed alternative routes of communication between Burma, Ayutthaya, Lan Na, Sipsong Panna, and the Shan States. Unsurprisingly, such variant interactions had an impact on artistic production in Burma prior to the destruction of Ayutthaya and the relocation of artists to the Ava region. The information utilized in Burmese murals ranges from central Thai elements of style and dress to the narratives and methods of religious practice found particularly in Tai regions. This paper explores these aspects in Burmese mural paintings from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries in order to suggest the extent and nature of this impact, as well as the various means – social, religious, political – by which it came about. The murals ultimately present a view of Burma readily absorbing external material due in part to shared religious beliefs and fluid political relationships in the region.

Gillian Green

Volume 16
"Verging on Modernity: A Late Nineteenth-Century Burmese Painting on Cloth Depicting the Vessantara Jataka"

This large (428 cm x 82.5 cm) opaque watercolour painting on cotton cloth is stitched into a cloth border. Its composition depicts events in the Vessantara Jataka narrative. Traditional Burmese painting on manuscripts and murals were surveyed for similarities but this demonstrated that the representation of the main protagonists in the panel was entirely novel. Compared with published nineteenth century Burmese paintings on cloth a group of paintings dated to between approx. 1885 and 1910 described as 'family group portraits,' showed the greatest similarity. Formal studio photographic portraits popular with elite Burmese families of that period also show striking compositional similarities.

Contexts for the use of these cloth paintings on this theme were investigated. Initially the long painted cloth scrolls employed in the annual Vessantara Festival in northeast Thailand and Laos seemed to provide a model but in the absence of any record of a similar function in Burma, this theory was rejected. Observations and photographs published by travellers in Burma in late nineteenth century illuminate a number of community events in Burmese life for which paintings on cloth (or paper) did serve a purpose. 'Family group portraits' are discernible in the photographs at these events. It is proposed that a small group of traditional Burmese painters stimulated by the challenge of photographic images, turned their hand, for a short period to emulating these photographic images on cloth for these purposes. The reasons for the choice of the Vessantara Jataka in this case as a subject are discussed.

Arlo Griffiths and Amandine Lepoutre

Volume 17
"Campā Epigraphical Data on Polities and Peoples of Ancient Myanmar"

The article traces the nomenclature applied to ethnic groups and polities in the early pre modern period, and re examines the first appearance of a name for the ceremonial center known as Pagan. By providing updated readings of epigraphical data derived from Campā, the authors correct an influential misreading of an important inscription known since the 19th century, its misdating traceable to Etienne Aymonier and inserted into the authorized Burmese narrative by Gordon H. Luce. As Griffiths and Lepoutre show, the inscription originated in the 13th century. This correction of the evidence, based on Claude Jacques’ and their own re-evaluation, is expanded to examine the names applied to polities ancient Myanmar may have interacted with.

Arlo Griffiths

Volume 19
"Three More Sanskrit Inscriptions of Arakan"

The earliest phase of Arakan history, between about the fifth and the tenth centuries, has to be written on the basis of inscriptions and related material such as coins bearing Sanskrit texts, as well as sculpture and architecture. These show Arakan to have had strong ties to Southeastern Bengal (the Samataṭa and Harikela regions) and beyond this with the Buddhist communities of Northeastern India using Sanskrit as preferential medium of expression. A first batch of Arakan Sanskrit inscriptions was studied by E.H. Johnston and published posthumously in 1943. Since then, this field has moved forward thanks mainly to three articles by D. C. Sircar that appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, no further epigraphic material of early Arakan has been published. The Sanskrit inscriptions of Arakan are often in deplorable state of preservation. But even fragmentary material can throw new light on the past, especially when studied in combination with epigraphical and numismatic discoveries made in Southeast Bengal over the past half-century. This article deals with three such fragmentary inscriptions, all previously unpublished. It presents the discovery that the ancient name of Arakan was Kāmaraṅga, discusses aspects of the history of Buddhism in Arakan during the first millennium, and discusses the problem of the chronology of early Arakan based on a detailed palaeographic analysis of the inscriptions published here.

Lillian Handlin

Volume 21.1
Helping Against Lives' Uncertainties and the "Theravada" Label

A small shrine originally constructed in 1742 and  subsequently renovated in 1762,  in the village of Ma U,  was the meritorious deed of two members of one family, a wealthy widow, and later her son. Both  donors left relatively extensive statements explicating the significance of their merit making. The two inscriptions reveal generational differences, and how shifting historical circumstances informed their sense of self and the world around them.  The shrine testifying to their piety also includes in its programmatic décor a jataka of unknown provenance inscribed with the intriguing tag “ Theravada zat.” The article reads  the inscriptions in light of the wider world that was beginning to impinge upon royal subjects’ lives in the first years of the new Konbaung dynasty. The article also  examines the significance of recourse to a term that at the time had yet to become the label for a major religion.

Jessica Harriden

Volume 7
"Making a Name for Themselves: Karen Identity and the Politicization of Ethnicity in Burma" pp.84-144

The history of Karen nationalism has been interpreted in terms of inter-ethnic conflict and conceptualizations of ethnicity have influenced understanding of Karen political identity. While ‘Karen’ incorporated various linguistic, sociocultural, religious and political sub-groups, the Karen National Union (KNU) elite promoted a singular pan-Karen identity in order to minimize such diversity. As a result, factionalism emerged between different Karen groups, obstructing the KNU’s political vision and leaving many Karens dissatisfied with KNU attempts to represent their various interests. The fall of Manerplaw in 1995 was thus the result of intra-ethnic conflict as much as conflict between Karens and non-Karens.

Patricia M. Herbert

Volume 9
"U Pe Maung Tin Bibliography" pp.130-176

From age 23 until his death at 84, U Pe Maung Tin was a prodigious writer and editor in both Burmese and English. He was the editor of the important Journal of the Burma Research Society. He wrote the first book on Burmese phonetics. With G.H. Luce, he edited Inscriptions of Burma and translated The Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma. This invaluable annotated bibliography lists these and more than 200 other works by U Pe Maung Tin, a dramatic illustration of the legacy of this important Burmese scholar.

John Hillman 

Volume 15
"Capitalism and the Development of Tin Industry in Burma"

Although Burma played an important role in the Asian tin industry during the era of mercantile capital, it faded into insignificance during the nineteenth century, the era of finance capital, but recovered in the first part of the twentieth as its deposits were exploited by western industrial capital. The first phase rested on the strategic location of Tenasserim astride the trade routes across the isthmus of Kra and outside the control of Western mercantile trading companies. However, that same location made it a site of the Burmese- Siamese wars which brought this era to end in devastation. Although the East India Company promoted exploitation of the mineral resources of Tenasserim following the first Anglo-Burma war, it was unable to establish the institutional infrastructure that allowed Chinese capitalists to finance the tin industry elsewhere. As tin prices rose in the twentieth century, British, South African and Australian capital reinvigorated the industry not only in Tenasserim but also in the Shan States. One of these ventures proved to be so profitable that became the basis of the first tin conglomerate to operate on a global basis. The new role for Burma is explored during the depression of the 1930s, both in the negotiations with the International Tin Committee which regulated the global industry and in the continued expansion of production. Although western capital remained dominant it rested on an uneven financial base, but it provided the framework which allowed small scale primitive workings by both Chinese and Burmese to flourish.

Marie Lall and Hla Hla Win

Volume 17
"Myanmar: The 2010 Elections and Political Participation"

This co-authored article examines how the concept of citizenship is linked to the changing nature of the nation state in the Myanmar context. The authors examine a debate within Myanmar regarding the nature of citizenship, as the country moved from being governed by a military dictatorship to a parliamentary system still heavily dominated by the military. The authors ask how this new situation will affect the Myanmar concept of citizenship. Citizenship is defined as an individuals relationship with the state, and people’s understanding of the attendant rights and responsibilities, including political participation in elections. Data assembled in Myanmar derived from focus groups of young people of Bamar and ethnic minority origins as well as in-depth interviews with civil society leaders. The investigation employed a mixed methods approach, the distribution of a questionnaire with qualitative and quantitative sections distributed at a private higher education institution in Yangon, and in villages in the Delta. Another set of data was collected in Yangon in February 2011. The authors conclude that the concept of citizenship in Myanmar is thin, and is identified largely with passports and identity cards. The elections allowed some form of political participation that proved attractive particularly to young people who expressed a range of opinions regarding the possibilities offered by the political process, and the country’s future. The authors conclude that the elections began a debate about the rights and duties of participating in the political process, but without being linked to the concept of citizenship. This indicates how much more is needed to be done to increase the political literacy of Myanmar’s young people, moving forward.

Thibaut d'Hubert

Volume 19
"The Lord of the Elephant: Interpreting the Islamicate Epigraphic, Numismatic, and Literary Material from the Mrauk U Period of Arakan (ca. 1430-1784)"

With this article, I propose to revisit a corpus of multilingual inscriptions on coins, as well as one Persian stone inscription, whose dates range from the fifteenth to the first half of the seventeenth centuries of the Mrauk U period of Arakan (ca. 1430−1784). My primary aim is to revise the readings of some of those inscriptions and, with these revisions in mind, to reassess the significance of such texts in light of recent scholarship on the Mrauk U period. Rather than derive conclusions based on anecdotal evidence of the existence of an Islamicate idiom in Arakan during this period, I observe the internal features of those inscriptions and possible readings that could be made of the message they contain. I also extend my analysis beyond coin inscriptions and trace the various forms of the Arakanese royal title “Lord of the Elephant” and its use as a generic epithet associated with political power in later (ca. 17th−18th CE) Bengali Muslim literature.

Bob Hudson 

Volume 15
"A Royal Collection of Bronze Model Boats and Soldiers from Eighteenth-Century Burma"

Andrew Huxley

Volume 1
"The Importance of the Dhammathats" pp.1-17

Burma's dhammathats are pre-colonial compilations of legal and ethical material. They provide vivid insights into the details of everyday village life and into the process by which Burmese authors adapted Pali texts from India to their own purposes. They appear to be at least as old as any other surviving Burmese literature and contain valuable lessons for contemporary Burma. This article hopes to rescue them from their unjust neglect.

Volume 13 
"Three Nineteenth-Century Law Book Lists: Burmese Legal History from the Inside"

Through the investigation of three Burmese law book lists by Maungdaung Sayadaw, Tha Dwe, and Kyaw Htun this article seeks to construct a narrative history of legal traditions. By breaking each list into smaller units and comparing the results a common core of Burmese legal history emerges. The lists, shed light on who the typical authors of a dhammathat were while items that appear on some, but not all, of the lists help indicate controversies that were still matters of live debate during the nineteenth century.

Volume 19
“Two Law Book Lists from Arakan”

The legal history of Arakan has not yet been written. We have a few surviving dhammathat texts, but no reliable information as to when they were first written or last copied. Were the surviving texts written before the conquest of Arakan? Can we treat them as evidence for tradition as it was under the Arakanese kings? The two 1870s lists discussed herein bring us closer to answering these questions.

Return to Abstracts