Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Science blogging as a model for historical research blogging

Wikipedia's list of blog types includes educational blogs (students and teachers talking about a course), but research and scholarship is another essential ingredient of higher education. There is no "research blog" category defined and it is difficult if impossible to find any historians or humanities scholars talking about their work in a blog, but this may change in the future.

The closest category to a general "research blog" is the "science blog" which is becoming increasingly popular in the science research community. There are issues though:

"...Individual scientists have received the idea of blogging with mixed feelings: while some see it as an excellent new way to disseminate and discuss data, others have expressed concern about potential damage to their credibility and plundering of their intellectual property. However, a number of scientific publishers have recently begun to embrace blogging as a means of promoting discussion."

Lack of peer review is also an issue. As more history scholarship makes it into online repositories and journals, intellectual property theft of ideas will become less of an issue since a simple Google search will reveal the plagiarism.

I used to be a contributing editor at Lambda the Ultimate, a computer science blog devoted to discussion on programming language research run by a computer science professor in Israel. Most computer science research papers make it to the web, so it's not difficult to keep his blog going. Since computer scientists have to be very focused in their research to make contributions they often lose touch with developments in nearby specialties that could be relevant to their own research. Blogs like Lambda the Ultimate help them broaden their perspective a little.

As important historical sources like the Ming Shi-lu make their way online or the Si Ku Quan Shu [Qing Imperial Library or "Complete Library in the Four Branches of Literature" compiled between 1772-1787][Internet Public Library], the web will probably increase as a publishing platform for historical research also.

UK leads the world in open academic journal policy

The UK government is tieing research funding to open online access to journal articles describing the research.

Maybe more historical and humanities research will eventually be available online. Right now there is a strong incentive for historians to hold back their work until it is published in a prestigious paper journal and then (irony of all ironies) you can't get it in Southeast Asia even though it's Southeast Asian history, let's say, because it is too expensive for Southeast Asian unviersity libraries to buy with their limited budget. If online journals become more acceptable maybe they would publish smaller articles, more often like scholars in the natural sciences.

IMHO Natural science papers are more willing to put forward potentially false hypotheses. Whereas in history making a hypothesis that may be proved false might be looked down upon, in the natural statements such falsifiable hypotheses are just good science.

(Also see the section on historicism in the Wikipedia article on falsifiability above.)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Cesar Federici's "Account of Pegu" (1563) II

The first interesting part of the manuscript is an incident at Martaban between the Portuguese and Bayinnaung's ministers [members of the ruling elite]. I've never seen such an incident in the Burmese chronicle. It certainly gives you a feeling of the uncertainty of life living in the Burmese trading community of that age and would probably qualify as microhistory or history from below:

Arriving in Martaban Frederici found 90 Portuguese "and other base men" residing there (see George Winius, "Portugal's Shadow on the Bay of Bengal") . There was enmity between the Portuguese community and the ruler of Martaban. Portuguese had killed five of Bayinnaung's ministers about a month after he had left with a military expedition to Ayutthaya.

"...they have for custome in this country and kingdome, that the king being wheresoever his pleasure is to be out of this kingdom, that everie fifteene dayes there goeth from Pegu a caravan of falchines [ministers?], with everie one a basket on his heade full with some fruites or other delicates of refreshings, and with cleane clothes:

"...it chaunced that this caravan passing by Martavan, and resting themselves there a night, there happened betweene the Portugalles and them: wordes of dispight, and from words to blowes, and because it was thought that the Portugals had the worse, the night following, when the falchines were a sleepe with their companie, the Portugalles went and cut off five of their heades.

Blood Money

"Nowe there is a Lawe in Pegu, that whosoever killeth a man, hee shall buy the shed bloud with his monie, according to the estate of the person that is slaine, but these falchines [ministers, officials] being the servauntes of the king, the Retors durst not doe any thing in the matter, without the consent of the king, because it was necessarie that the king should knowe of such a matter.

"When the king [Bayinnaung] had knowledge thereof, he gave commaundement that the malifactors shoulde bee kept untill his comming home, and then he would duely minister justice,

Extraterritoriality Claimed by the Portuguese

"...but the captaine of the Portugalles would not deliver those men, but rather set himselfe with all the rest in armes, and went everie day through the citie marching with the Drumme and ancient [Ensignes] displayed.

"For at that time the Citie was emptie of men, by reason they were gone al to the warres and in businesse of the King: in the middest of this rumour wee came thether, and I thought it a straunge thing to see the Portugalles use such insolencie in another mans Cittie.

A Merchant Concerned About Losing His Goods

"Dealings with the Retor at Martaban And I stoode in doubte of that which came to passe, & would not unlade my goodes because that they were more surer in the ship then on the land, the greatest part of the lading was the owners of the ship, who was in Malacca, yet there were divers merchants there, but their goods were of small importance, al those merchants told me that they woulde not unlade any of their goodes there, unlesse I would unlade first, yet after they left my counsell & followed their own, and put their goods a land and lost it everie whit.

"The Rector with the customer sent for me, and demaunded why I put not my goods a lande, and payd my custome as other men did?

"To whom I answered, that I was a merchant that was newly come thither, & seeing such disorder amongst the Portugalles, I doubted the losse of my goodes which cost me very dear, with the sweate of my face, and for this cause I was determined not to put my goodes a lande, untill such time as his honour would assure me in the name of the king, that I shoulde have no losse although there came harme to the Portugalles, that neither I nor my goodes should have any hurt, because I had neither part nor any difference with them in this rumor:

Guarantees by Local Authorities

"my reason sounded well in the Retors eares, and presently commaunded to cal the Bargits, which are as Counsellers of the Citie & there they promised me on the kings head or in the behalfe of the king, that neither I nor my goods should have anie harme, but that we should be safe & sure: of which promise there was made publike notes,

"and then I sent for my goods and had them a land, and payd my custome, which is in that countrie ten in the hundreth of the same goodes, and for my more securitie I tooke a house right against the Retors house.

"The Captain of the Portugalles, and all the Portugal merchants were put out of the Citie, and I with twentie and two poore men which were officers in the ship. We had our dwelling in the Citie.

The Burmese Attack the Portuguese

"After this, the Gentils devised to be revenged of the Portugales; but they woulde not put it in execution untill such time as our small Shippe had discharged all her goodes,

"and then the next night following came from Pegu fowre thousand souldiers with some Elyphants of Warre;

"and before that they made anie rumor in the citie, that the Retor sent, and gave commaundement to all Portugalles that were in the Citie, when they heard anie rumour or noyse, that for any thing they should not goe out of their houses, and as they tendered their own health.

"Then fowre houres in the night I heard a great rumour and noyse of men of Warre, with Eliphants which threwe downe the doores of the Ware-houses of the Portugalles, and their houses of wood and strawe, in the which

"rumor there were some Portugalles wounded, and one of them slaine; and others without making proofe of their manhoode, which the daye before did so bragge, at that time: put themselves to flight most shamefullye, and saved them selves a boorde of little Shippes, that were at an ancker in the harbour, and some that were in their beddes fledde away naked, and

"that night they caried away all the Portugalles goods out of the suburbes into the Citie, and those Portugalles that had their goodes in the suburbes with all.

The Portuguese Counter-Attack

"After this the Portugalles that were fled into the shippes to save themselves, tooke a newe courage to themselves, and came a lande and set fire on the houses in the suburbs, which houses being made of boord and straw, and a fresh winde; in small time were burnt and consumed, with which fire halfe the Citie had like to beene burnt;

"when the Portugales had done this, they were without all hope to recover any part of their goodes againe, which goods might amount to the summe of sixteene thousande duckets, which, if they had not set fire to the towne, they might have had their goodes given them gratis.

"Then the Portugalles having understanding that this thing was not done by the consent of the king, but by his lieutenant and the Retor of the citie were verie yll content, knowing that they had made a greate fault,

"yet the next morning following, the Portugalles began to batter, and shoote their ordinance against the Citie, which batterie of theirs continued fowre dayes, but all was in vaine, for the shotte never hit the Citie, but light on the top of a small hill neere unto it, so that the Citie had no harme,

"when the Retor perceiving that the Portugalles made batry against the Citie, he tooke twentie and one Portugalles that were there in the Citie, and sent them foure miles into the Countrie, there to tarrie untill such time as the other Portugalles were departed, that made the batterie, who after their departure let them goe at their owne libertie without any harme done unto them.

"I was alwayes in my house with a good guard appointed me by the Retor, that no man shoulde doe mee injurie, nor harme me nor my goodes; in such wise that hee perfourmed all that hee had promised mee in the name of the king,

"but he would not let me depart before the comming of the king, which was my hindrance greatly, because I was twentie and one moneths sequestred, that I coulde not buy nor sell any kinde of merchandize.

"Those commodities that I brought thither, was Peper, Sandolo, and Porcellan of China, so when the king was come home, I made my supplication unto him, and I was licensed to depart when I would.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Cesar Fedrici's “Account of Pegu” (1563)

Published in the SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research (SBBR).

Cesar Frederici's description of Bayinnaung's capital at Pegu [in southern Burma near the coast] is valued as a historical source because, "it is not given to the hyperbole of the near-contemporary account of Mendez Pintoand because of its great attention to detail concerning the state, its administrators, and trade at Pegu."

The editor of the SBBR Dr. Michael Charney describes a process of historical distortion in the process of translation over the centuries:

"...one obstacle in making full use of Fedrici is the way in which his account was cut by different editors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and published in various extracts. Even the two earliest compilations that incorporated Hickock’s translation altered the text and unconsciously incorporated copyist’s errors. For example, those who questioned, as asserted by these later editions, whether Tenasserim did indeed supply nutmeg to the world market, will find that “nuts” in the Hickok original was transformed into “nutmeg.”

"...The account reproduced below attempts to provide as complete a version of Federici’s account of Pegu as possible, based on the Hakluyt and Purchas editions, but checked for major errors against the original Hickok translation."

Someone has surely given a name to this phenomenon whereby an inaccurate fact or interpretation of a fact is used once again, and again, and again, adding little additional inaccuracies along the way until a virtual snowball of inaccuracy results(see Geoffrey Pullum's "Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax" [long quote at an Urban Legends site, better explanation here]). Will have to take a look at David Hacker Fischer's Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Clausewitz and Early Modern Mainland Southeast Asian Warfare

In search of general theories of warfare, to make broader world-historical sense of the historical pecularities of early modern Burmese chronicle history, I stumbled upon Clausewitz's "trinity". This trinity of forces at work behind warfare helps balance the rational manpower maximizing strategies of avoidance and flight in mainland warfare presented in Reid's magnum opus Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, with the counter-examples of often fiercely fought, high casualty warfare pointed out by Charney (2004) [Review, p. 453].

Clausewitz's "trinity" balances the rational and deterministic with more irrational and indeterministic causes at work in warfare:

"In the last section of Chapter 1, Book One, he [Clausewitz] claims that war is 'a remarkable trinity'(eine wunderliche Dreifaltigkeit) composed of (a) the blind, natural force of violence, hatred, and enmity among the masses of people; (b) chance and probability, faced or generated by the commander and his army; and (c) war's rational subordination to the policy of the government.(28)...Our task therefore is to develop a theory that maintains a balance between these three tendencies, like an object suspended between three magnets."

If Reid's depiction of warfare is too rationally driven by mainland Southeast Asia's resource scarcities, namely its manpower scarcity, Charney (2004) provides counter-examples to Reid that show high casualties, ferocious, or high intensity warfare, carried out for particular important objectives. Clausewitz's "trinity" can motivate historians to search for deeper, thicker, richer descriptions of early modern warfare where the traditional chronicle historiography aimed at more static, ritualistic descriptions. The Clausewitzian "trinity" can be reinterpreted:

1. Violence or ferocity: the rational strategy of irrationality, a strategy of high casualty warfare employed towards certain important objectives
2. Rational higher order objectives, maximizing manpower accumulation, raiding easy targets for animal and manpower resources is seen frequently in the late Ava period.
3. Another element, namely the unpredictability and uncontrollability of warfare, which necessitates a continual process of adaptation to changing circumstances. For example, wars of conquest during the First Toungoo dynasty often do not work out the way they were intended to initially, necessitating a reformulation of objectives. The conquest and control of Laos was a continual problem because of the strategy of flight that Setthathirat employed. The Burmese shows how a strategy of compromise and state building (c. 1574) in response to these problems.

This paper also helps clarify the difference between 1. human agency, the butterfly effect, sensitivity to initial conditions versus 2. the Braudelian long-term influence of structure.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Historical Geography in Three Dimensions

The Ming conquest of the Tai-Yunnan frontier that I am working through with the Online Ming Shi-lu is geographically complex. I'm using three different Yunnan maps to figure it out.

I'm think of drawing maps, but why not just put points (for events) and lines (for military expeditions) in Google Earth?

Google Earth is being used as an aid for describing the geography behind historical events. There are some good ideas in the article linked to above. "Benchmarks: Maps of the World" in the "Journal of the Association for History and Computing".

"It is not hard to envision a computer lab full of history students who are geotagging maps of historic sites, using the information they find in primary source documents to create pop-up tags for particular locations.

"A good history classroom with beam projector and computer would be an obvious place for students to demonstrate these maps for each other, working with mapping, speaking, and document decoding skills.

"In a melding of technology and history a whole class could explore spatial data in making historic arguments."

Restoration of historical structures in a digital musueum is a possibility, the historian must "identify and geocode the structures that have been lost...find pictures that could be attached to maps—pictures and descriptive data that will preserve digitally what has been lost physically.

"One curator said that his museum will be rebuilt. Geocoded data could help this rebuilding process that will take architects, foundations, museum curators, and historians to accomplish.

"Using maps and information attached to maps, there are great possibilities for telling stories — histories — that might be lost otherwise."

Tutorials show how to add lines to describe paths taken and polygons to delineate regions. Download the "KML Tutorial File" which you can run on Google Earth to see examples.Superimposing historical overlays on Google Earth is also a technique.

There's a whole forum at Google Earth where people post their KML files describing historical geography with Google Earth.

You'd get a gazetteer if you hook a pedia (Wikipedia) to Google Earth with KML, then historical geography will be one click away with a suitable key word search at Google, searchable historical gazetteers.

Here's a directory of waypoints in Burma. Still looking for an extensive list of latitude and longitude points (aka "waypoints") I can run through a Perl script to create KML marking historically important locations and routes in early modern Burma in Google Earth. I found some snippets of KML creating code.

Here's a global gazeteer.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Has Burmese history disappeared?

Or has post-modernist "theory" finally rushed in to fill the void of information and hard facts regarding Burma and its history?

Is "Karaoke Fascism: Burma and the Politics of Fear" an attempt to make academic press books more lurid and appealing to mass markets?

Or is it just that editors at the University of Pennsylvania Press just couldn't get enough accurate information to actually edit this book, to spot a book full of factual inaccuracy and hype instead of hard scholarship. The review linked to above says it all:

"Skidmore parades the trendy theorists of several academic disciplines: Adorno, Benjamin, Foucault, Taussig and many others....She defeats herself when she becomes theoretically pretentious and disturbingly voyeuristic.

"Metaphors are employed liberally: soldiers are scorpions, tanks are giant scorpions used by the state, prostitutes are black crows flying overhead and haunting Skidmore

"....most Burmese are “still as wooden puppets” through fear, and dusty construction workers are symbolically covered with the heroin that funds the new high-rises. This is all very clever, but is it accurate?

"Factual errors abound: Aung San and the “entire cabinet” were not killed by a bomb in 1947 (several pages later it’s a hand grenade); Thamanya monastery isn’t in Southern Mon State (go looking in Karen State, east of Hpa-an); Aung San Suu Kyi wasn’t “released from house arrest in May 1996,” nor did the comedian Par Par Lay die in jail where he was imprisoned for telling a few jokes (he was released in 2001).

"When theorizing becomes more important than getting things right, then truth suffers, something most Burmese would be aware of...

"...academic gimmickry is given more priority than Burmese reality.

"Resisting the constraints of orthodox research methodology, Skidmore pursues a participatory role where she tries to act as scared as she thinks the locals are, ...including vignettes of nightmares of being murdered by Burmese soldiers, freaking out when she constantly mistakes Loi Htei (a drink company) with Lon Htein (riot police) and hiding in her house when her self-generated fear becomes too much. Is this participation or paranoia?

"Karaoke Fascism is clearly more concerned with making an impact within the academic field than speaking to a broader audience about life lived in mundane fear, poverty and misunderstanding."

There is more to Burma than its military present. Scholars should start actively uncovering the other layers of Burmese culture and society.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Digital Scholarly Editions

Imagine a digital tool for comparing primary sources. Could such a tool clarify the differences between historical interpretations and expose the glue that historians use to bring historical facts together into a meaningful whole?

The article linked to above, "Current issues in making digital editions of medieval texts—or, do electronic scholarly editions have a future?" (Peter Robinson , Digital Medievalist 1.1, Spring 2005), addresses this goal:

"Fundamental to the model of electronic scholarly edition as it has developed over the past decade is the inclusion of full transcripts of all witnesses to the text. These transcripts need complex structural and other encoding from which computer programs may generate full collations of all the witnesses."

"Further computer programs may offer different representations and analytic tools for studying the differences and similarities among the witnesses, and then present all these, typically alongside images of the manuscripts, within a single electronic interface."

Following the links, you get many examples of how to make primary sources available online. See Livy's history of Rome in Latin and English

I found this in DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) an index of high quality, thoroughly edited and refereed academic journals available for free over the internet. This is already the way the natural sciences have headed with sites like Citeseer. A friend and colleague tells me that some European governments are already making it a requirement.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Braudel's Model of History

There is just a smattering of material on the web for this important
historian. Most of it is buried several pages deep in a web search. There are some classroom materials online, some interesting tidbits scanned from books, only the start of something at Wikipedia, and finally found a journal article available online: "Braudel: Historical Time and the Horror of Discontinuity"

Of course, if you know the exact words that describe what you're looking for Google Scholar, you can get a lot of information on Braudel from Google Book Search. Most of the references in Google Scholar are either for-pay journals or books in Google Book Search.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Google Scholar for Burmese History

To avoid the great bulk of tourism sites with their inaccurate pop-history, use Google Scholar for searches on historical topics in Southeast Asia and Yunnan.

The article "UC Libraries Use of Google Scholar - August 2005" lists the ways that students and teachers in the University of California system find Google useful. Here are some important advantages:

1. It allows more effective key word searches because it searches full texts of journal articles and books not just abstracts.

2. Like Citeseer in the sciences you can search for "author references to particular named data sources, publications, or institutions."

3. Also good for subject areas where there is not much from specialized databases which is certainly true of Burmese history.

One of the top hits for Yunnan and Burma was this highly suspect history of Ming China in one web page. It talks over and over again of Lolo rebellions in Yunnan during the late fourteenth century which are actually ethnic Tai rebellions. It's unclear where the author is getting all this information because he doesn't cite any sources. Perhaps he is misinterpreting the ethnonym "Yi" which currently refers to a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group, but in Ming times also referred to Tai ethnic groups. The Ming invasion of Yunnan and the Tai reaction along the frontier is covered, of course, in great detail by Southeast Asia in the Ming Shi-lu.

There's also a weblog devoted to Google Scholar.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Military Campaigns against Yunnan:
A Global Analysis

This paper reviews Chinese military campaigns against Yunnan from 475 BC to 1644 AD. It explains the large-scale geopolitical reasons for the Ming invasion of Yunnan. Something I missed by going at the history from the bottom-up
with the minutiae of the Ming Shi-lu. Before the Ming invasion of Yunnan in 1382:

"...the Mongols were still occupying the Mongolian Grassland, and could launch southern expeditions at any time they wished. More importantly, the Mongols still occupied Yunnan. If the Mongols attacked Ming China both from the north and from the southwest, the Ming court would have battles on two fronts. Therefore, in the 1370s, the Ming dynasty was facing a situation that was similar to what the Southern Song failed to cope with when Kublai Khan took over the Dali Kingdom. Such an international pattern pushed the Ming ruler to launch a campaign against Yunnan in order to avoid the fate of the Southern Song.

"The Mongol conquest of Dali was aimed at surrounding the Southern Song. Ming China’s decision to take over Yunnan was to avoid the fate of the Southern Song, fearing that the Mongols would repeat their thirteenth-century strategy. Therefore, before Yunnan became part of China, the northern states’ interest in Yunnan was because of Yunnan’s strategic location."

Primary source citations would be nice here as well as well a clear demarcation between original interpretations of the author and those of other historians. This interpretation of the Ming invasion of Yunnan in 1382 is not even cited in the Cambridge History of China, so I would assume that some scholars disagree.

Don't believe the historical details of the Dali campaign related here are in the Ming Shi-lu:

"In 1383, Zhu Yuanzhang dispatched Fu Youde, Lan Yu and Mu Ying to lead an expedition of over 300,000 soldiers. Soon the Ming army occupied Kunming, and eastern Yunnan was occupied. However, the Duan family had been semi-autonomous in the Dali area under the Yuan dynasty and thought this was a good opportunity to resume its former independent status. When Fu Youde wrote to ask the Duans to surrender, Duan Shi, the chief of the Duans, cited historical experience to legitimatize his claim of autonomy. He argued that the Dali area was a foreign kingdom during the Tang dynasty, and had been outside of the boundary demarcated by the jade axe during the Song period; furthermore, this region and its population were too small to be a prefecture of China, so there was no benefit for the Ming force to come, neither was there any loss if the Ming state gave up its military campaign. Duan Shi suggested that the Ming court follow the Tang and Song mode of management to rebuild a type of tribute relationship.138 Fu ignored this response and repeated his request. Duan was annoyed, and threatened the Ming generals in the second letter. He emphasized that the geographic and biological advantages for the military defense of Dali were so great that the Ming would likely repeat the disaster of previous Chinese expeditions.139 Fu was irritated and detained the Duan envoys. Duan Shi then wrote a third letter with a more “arrogant” tone. Fu realized that a peaceful negotiation did not work, so he launched an attack. The Duan power was eventually destroyed. However, rebellions led by local chieftains were not suppressed until a decade later (p. 52-3 citing as the source: Fang, Guoyu (1998 Yunnan Shiliao Congkan (Series of Historical Documents on Yunnan), Kunming: Yunnandaxue Chubanshe, 13 Vols, once again, it would be nice to know the primary sources here.)

Some notes about the paper's coverage of earlier history.

1. In early sections of the paper it is very difficult to follow the involvement of Yunnan in the complex historical narrative. In fact, the word "Yunnan" is only mentioned sporadically.

2. The paper explains the origin of the toponym "Dian" that is often used to refer to Yunnan. Dian was the name of the ancient state in the center of Yunnan with references dating as far back as the Warring States period (279BC).

3. Using the word "barbarians" to describe the various ethnic groups and states of Yunnan is still rather obnoxious even if you put quotes around it.

This is a chapter in the author's dissertation published as a 2004 working paper at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Betel Receptacles as Sumptuary Objects

The Burmese chronicle's lengthy lists can sometimes overwhelm the reader. Some of the most common lists are the lists of gifts given as a reward for service and as a symbol of rank.

Betel receptacles are very common in these lists. They are "made of different material according to the wealth and status of the user from split bamboo to those of silver and gold studded with precious stones." Later on they "became insignias of rank of the princes and nobles and the regalia of kings (min-kan-min-na).

(Note: The English version of the paper by Dr. Yi Yi is longer than an abstract, but not as long as the Burmese version which has more information in it. This sort of pecularity has also confused western scholars using Than Tun's Royal Orders of Burma who mistake the shorter English versions as a literal translation of the longer original Burmese versions, where in fact they are mere abstracts.)

pp. 2-6: English version
pp. 7-41: Burmese version
pp. 42-51: Illustrations

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Bob Hudson's Slightly Whimsical South East Asian Archaeology Home Page

Dr. Bob Hudson's 2004 PhD dissertation on the archaeology of Burma up to the Pagan era (The Origins of Bagan: The archaeological landscape of Upper Burma to AD 1300) is a long and good read. Many sections are relevant to early modern history.

Dr. Hudson devotes a lot of space to historical geography and place names. He describes the GIS he built for Pagan using the Mapinfo GIS package (p. 267). Several useful GIS tidbits are scattered throughout the dissertation, like the following observations on village names:

"A potentially useful piece of linguistic evidence cropped up during database compilation. Myanmar has a body of common village names that appear regularly across the country. Many of these are descriptive of some local features...Taungba, for example, means “near a hill”, Taungtha means 'pleasant hill', and Nyaungbintha means 'pleasant banyan tree' ...there are at least 68 villages, streams or hills in Myanmar named Thanbo, or a variant of this, which means an 'iron camp', or place where iron is worked.” (p. 271)

Interesting new historical geographical tools are revealed:

"A key data source for Myanmar became available with the publication, in Burmese, of Ancient Myanmar Cities in Aerial Photos (Aung Myint 1999, Ancient Myanmar Cities in Aerial Photos (in Burmese) Ministry of Culture, Yangon). Aung Myint has published around 30 sites, all with some kind of enclosure, and says he has a second volume in waiting. Many of these sites have not been formally dated, and some have not even been surveyed at ground level. U Aung Myint’s pet term for them, which is both poetic and academically cautious, is “archaeological scars”. There are certainly more walled or enclosed settlements still to be located and characterised. There are passing references to walled sites and fortresses in Shan State that can be “counted almost by the score” (Scott 1921: 333-334), such as a 0.6 hectare circular site near Laikha which had acquired a legendary history of being involved in conflicts among the Shan (Slater 1941: 112)"

Hudson's proposed "Late Prehistoric Homeland" (map, p. 117) is south of Kyaukse and corresponds closely to Min-gyi-nyo's (king of Toungoo, c. 1486-1531) sphere of influence in the late Ava period (see my paper).

This was the first I had heard of "Fletcher’s general model of settlement growth" which addresses: "the development of settlements in terms of the interaction and communication stresses of communal life, and how these stresses and their amelioration relate to the size to which settlements grow" (Fletcher 2004).

"According to this model, a site area of 100 hectares is considered to be the transitional limit at which a settlement should be exhibiting characteristics that include the management of space and population with durable structures such as walls or internal barriers that remove domestic activity from public view and thus reduce social stress, and systems of stored data including numeracy, calendars and other aids to memory and communication (Fletcher 1995: 58-69,Fletcher, Roland 1995 'The Limits of Settlement Growth'" Cambridge University Press)

When Hudson writes about "durable structures such as walls or internal barriers that remove domestic activity from public view and thus reduce social stress" it sounds like it's taken right out of the story of the first Buddhist king, the Mahathammada story, found in Dammathat's and the Burmese chronicle. I wonder what the genealogy of Fletcher's theory is, what theorists he drew from and the cross-cultural evidence that supports it. Hope his works are available in Thailand.

Hansen’s "city-state model" implies that Pyu cities were independent and is another theory that might have application to early modern history. A city-state is defined as “a highly institutionalised and highly centralised micro-state consisting of one town (often walled) … settled with a stratified population (which is) ethnically affiliated with the population of neighbouring city-states … political identity focused on the city-state itself … large fraction of the population is settled in the town, the others are settled in the hinterland, either dispersed in farmsteads or nucleated in villages, or both” (Hansen, 2000)It seems like common kinship would also be a factor here, sometimes blurring the lines between different states (or proto-states).

Here's a quick overview of the rest of the dissertation. (I'll look at in greater detail later.) Chapter one, on history and historiography, describes the corpus of Burmese chronicles. There is also a discussion of Aung-thwin's notion of the "Mon paradigm" in Burmese historiography.

Chapter four on wealth, status, and trade might have applications to the early modern period. Chapter five, also has applications, discussing settlements, urbanism, and stage of social development also addressing state expansion and collapse.

In the "Ethnicity and Migration" section I love this general rule that Hudson proposes: "the creation of a historical narrative around a hypothesised flow of ethnic groups and languages in antiquity, based on later ethnographic evidence, is highly problematic" (p. 39).

The translation of Za-bu-kon-cha [Net of the Southern Islands] an unpublished manuscript attributed to the Ava minister Wun Zin Min Yaza is interesting reading (pp. 284-292). It seems to be a collection of largely unrelated documents a lot like Zampudipa Ok Hsok Kyan.

It differs significantly from the standard Burmese chronicle narrative (U Kala, Hmannan) according "considerable importance to Halin and Maingmaw, sites which are linked archaelogically to the pre-Burman era." It also deals with "legendary Buddhist history, the histories of specific pagodas and small towns, taxation matters, and the later histories of Sagaing and Ava (Inwa)." The legendary names of cities included in the work could be useful for building a historical GIS for early modern Burma.

Two Burmese scholars collaborated on the translation. The translation is very literal and follows the original Burmese closely. This is the way I like to translate, making the translation more notes for reading the original Burmese than an interesting read for those unfamiliar with Burmese history.

The website of the Archaeological Computing Laboratory at the University of Sydney looks like it has a lot of resources worth exploring. Whoof! There's a lot of material in this dissertation! But it's great to see stuff like this online so it can be easily used.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

China Historical GIS

Sometimes you really need a historical GIS (Geographical Information System) to organize all the place names you find in the Burmese chronicle.

When I'm reading the chronicle, I always find myself flipping between Than Tun's Royal Orders of Burma for lists of polities, Scott's Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States, Trager and Koenig's sittans, maps from books like Lieberman's Burmese Administrative Cycles, contemporary maps (there are some very detailed ones online), and the list of polities for the late Ava period in the Burmese chronicle (will publish this useful list soon).

All this information should be combined into a historical GIS for early modern Burma with the best-guess locations for historical place names. Then detailed maps of military campaigns and of Burmese state expansion could be drawn.

The China GIS referred to above has already covered a lot of the same ground and there are already some GIS beginnings online. Wade's Online Ming Shi-lu provides a map of polities along the Tai-Yunnan frontier with Burma.

You can even download GIS data for Burma (Follow the links: datasets / DCW CHINA shapefiles / Get more DCW Data). Only the rivers, coastline, and topography data really seem relevant.

I can't link into Google Earth directly to show you the wonderful views of Burma that could be used to illustrate chronicle history.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Administration under King Thalun
(1629 - 48)

This important paper by the recently deceased doyen of Burmese history Dr Than Tun discusses administrative changes in the Burmese state that followed Burma's great expansion of the sixteenth century.

The paper uses the "Cambudipa Uchon Kyam" (more phonetically: Zampudipa Ok-hsaung Kyan), an important primary source for early modern Burmese history. Dr. Than Tun also had a translation of this source that should be published. I'll post my rough and very literal translation along with the original text as an aid to reading the original. Maybe the inadequacies of my own translation will motivate Mr Than Tun's heirs to present the great scholar Dr. Than Tun's own translation for publication.

The University of Washington has made his paper available along with a Burmese version and other important papers by Burmese historians. In the old days of the Journal of the Burma Research Society articles in the Burmese language were often published alongside the mostly English articles.

It is an interesting question whether a different analytical style was associated with writing articles in the two different languages. There is certainly a difference in the use of Chinese and English in anthropological scholarship on the multitude of different ethnic groups in Yunnan, China. Recent conferences and an edited volume seek to address these differences by using Chinese rather than the traditional English as the medium of communication.

This raises the question, if western writers start writing articles in Chinese, whether this could influence academic discourse in China and also vice-versa, whether Chinese papers translated into English could provide a fresh and different perspective on issues that are addressed right now, rather unquestioningly, only from the culturally remote perspective of western academic discourse.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Lan Na before 1558

"The Northern Tai Polity of Lan Na (Babai-Dadian) Between the Late 13th to Mid-16th Centuries: Internal Dynamics and Relations with Her Neighbours"

O, the joy you feel when you finally find something of substance, scholarship, and permanent value among all the flotsam jetsam of the internet.

This working paper by professor Volker Grabowsky while he was a visiting scholar at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore was the basis for the paper he published in the last issue of the Journal of the Siam Society.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Translation of the Burmese Rajadhammasangaha

This important online book may have passed under your radar as it did mine, until it was pointed out to me by a colleague.

The translator Mr. Euan Bagshawe has provided an inestimable service by making important primary source translations from the Konbaung period available to scholars in their unabridged form. It is difficult to get anyone to finance this sort of book project. Online ebooks are therefore the ideal format for disseminating this important scholarly information.

Ornate prose often makes books like this, from the period of Burmese kings, difficult for westerners to read. This is a major cultural difference between the Burmese and western writing traditions. Bagshawe's literal translation gives a window into the richness of the Burmese prose tradition.

Most westerners were raised on Strunk and White and are unlikely to appreciate this ornate prose. I find myself constantly paraphrasing and summarizing so I can relate to what is being said. Forcing ourselves to read, absorb, and reflect on the style itself rather than filtering it out, might be a good way to explore a different cultural dimension of Burmese history.

This book falls within the didactic literary genre of advice to kings by their councilors. The book was written for the new king Thibaw and presented to him in 1878. The purpose was to provide the new king with "thoughts upon how the monarchical government of Burma should be exercised."

It is the culmination of a long didactic tradition in Burmese literature that starts with Rajaniti (aphorisms for kings) borrowed from Indian literature and copied literally into the early sections of the Burmese chronicle (I will post my translation soon), develops with the advice given by ministers to Burmese kings in the Burmese chronicle, apparently often based on actual documents (see U Thaw Kaung's paper on the sources used to write Bayinnaung's biography Hsinpyushin Ayeidawpon), and finally ends in Thibaw's reign with this work.

Here is the announcement in the SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research together with the translator's preface. The ebook was published online at David Arnott's Online Burma Library, the most comprehensive collection of Burma-related weblinks. There is an introduction to the library as well as a mini-biography of David Arnott at his photography website which includes a gallery devoted to photos of Burma.