Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Books on Asian History

Here are some recent additions to our Asian history collection:
  • Western Power in Asia: Its Slow Rise and Swift Fall, 1415-1999 by Arthur Cotterell. This is a very readable account of a vast subject - the advent and decline of Western power in Asia. Of course the single volume has to be selective, and doubtless also controversial, as it speeds through the centuries 1415-1999. The gradual establishment of trading posts, colonies and empires by Holland, Spain, Portugal, Britain, France and later the US is traced as it spread throughout Asia until in the 20th century, when changed ideas and patterns of power including impacts of WWII brought about fundamental restructuring, which culminated in the 1999 Handover of Hong Kong. With black-and-white illustrations, chronology, bibliography and index.
  • Swish of the Kris: The Story of the Moros by Vic Hurley. Facsimile reissue of the significant 1936 account of the Moros - the traditionally fierce Islamic warriors of Mindanao and the southern Philippines. The author, a scholarly rubber planter, lived in the area for seven years and writes sympathetically of Moro history since their arrival as a largely nomadic people probably in the first century BCE. The Moros, with their kris, kept at bay successive invaders - Portuguese, British, Chinese, Japanese, and Dutch, as well as the governing Spanish and Americans. Details are given of the 1915 agreement with the US authority which proved to be a non-durable basis for stability and peace in the area. With historical notes and glossary.
  • The Lands West of the Lakes: History of the Ajattappareng Kingdoms of South Sulawesi 1200 to 1600 CE by Stephen C. Druce. The period 1200-1600 CE saw a radical transformation from simple chiefdoms to kingdoms (in archaeological terminology, complex chiefdoms) across lowland South Sulawesi, a region that lay outside the classical Indicized parts of Southeast Asia. The rise of these kingdoms was stimulated and economically supported by trade in prestige goods with other parts of island Southeast Asia, yet the development of these kingdoms was determined by indigenous, rather than imported, political and cultural precepts. Starting in the 13th century, the region experienced a transition from swidden cultivation to wet-rice agriculture; rice was the major product that the lowland kingdoms of South Sulawesi exchanged with archipelagic traders. Stephen Druce demonstrates this progression to political complexity by combining a range of sources and methods, including oral, textual, archaeological, linguistic and geographical information and analysis as he explores the rise and development of five South Sulawesi kingdoms, known collectively as Ajattappareng (the Lands West of the Lakes). The author also presents an inquiry into oral traditions of a historical nature in South Sulawesi. He examines their functions, their processes of transmission and transformation, their uses in writing history and their relationship to written texts. He shows that any distinction between oral and written traditions of a historical nature is largely irrelevant, and that the South Sulawesi chronicles, which can be found only for a small number of kingdoms, are not characteristic (as historians have argued) but exceptional in the corpus of indigenous South Sulawesi historical sources.
  • Tall Tales and True: India, Historiography and British Imperial Imaginings edited by Kate Brittlebank. Tall tales and true: India, historiography and British imperial imaginings is an interdisciplinary collection of eight case studies. Written in an engaging and accessible style, in order to appeal not only to specialists but also to students, teachers and general readers, it explores issues relating to the construction of historical narratives. The book presents re-assessments of a number of emblematic people and events that appear within the narrative of British imperial power: the Black Hole of Calcutta, Governor-General Warren Hastings, Tipu Sultan of Mysore, Arthur Wellesley and the battle of Assaye, the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, William Sleeman and the thugs, and the Indian Revolt of 1857-58. It concludes with an examination of the life of Madan Mohan Malaviya, an ambiguous figure who has been difficult to place in conventional narratives of Indian nationalism.
  • Through the Eyes of the King: The Travels of King Chulalongkorn to Malaya by Lim Pui Huen. This book takes the reader to old Malaya as seen through the eyes of King Chulalongkorn of Siam. The King was probably the most travelled monarch of his time. He went to Java three times, India and Burma once, and Europe twice. In all these journeys, he had to pass through Singapore, and when he went westwards, he had to pass through Penang. The King travelled to Malaya more than ten times - mainly to Singapore but also to Johor, Penang, Malacca, Taiping and Kulim. The narrative is told through historical photos and notes on the places he visited and pen sketches of the people he met. Since King Chulalongkorn's travels cover nearly the whole period of his reign, they reflect the different stages of his life and reign. We see him first as a young man eager to see the world and preparing himself to rule. Then we see him in middle age, in poor health and taking a respite from the cares of state. Lastly, we see him as a statesman withstanding severe pressures from aggressive British officials. The context of each journey is discussed in the light of Siam's relations with Britain and the northern Malay states that were still under Siamese suzerainty. Malaya was both holiday destination and confrontational space.

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