Monday, June 19, 2006

Harold White Fellow Lecture -
Pamela Gutman

This week there's a lecture devoted to the biography of historian of Burma Gordon Luce at ANU in Australia. Apparently there will be a biography published hopefully sometime soon too:

"Pamela Gutman will be writing a biography of Gordon Hannington Luce. As a young man, Luce was on the fringe of the Bloomsbury Group and was a friend of E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes and others. In 1912 he went to Burma as the Professor of English and he remained there for most of his life. He became the leading authority on the history, culture and languages of old Burma. Luce died in 1979 and in the following year the Library acquired a large collection of his books, manuscripts and personal papers. Dr Gutman, who is an Honorary Associate in the Department of Art History and Theory at Sydney University, has written extensively on Burmese art and history, and especially on the ancient kingdom of Arakan." (Source, Luce Collection, Luce papers)

Hopefully: 1. the transcript will be made publicly available, 2. Gutman comments on the later years of his life and how his later work was affected by immediate post independence politics, 3. Gutman talks about his wife Tee Tee Luce who is one of only two Magsaysay Prize winners from Burma, given the prize for giving "abandoned and wayward boys off the streets of Rangoon not merely a roof and food but what they missed and needed most — a home and a share of her heart" (Did this sort of charitable activity end with her? or were there hidden people within Burma who we just haven't seen who deserved the Magsaysay prize like workers at the Catholic Leper colony near Kengtung?), 4. his work on Chinese sources, 5. his intellectual legacy.

Obviously being a historian who deals with the history of Burma is different now than it used to be (no sense of nostalgia intended), but Luce especially in his work on Chinese sources on Yunnan stuck to the data and provided his readers with raw historical data that is still useful today, unlike many authors today who want to predigest everything for you and tell you how to think about certain issues. Sure he made speculations, but I think knowing that the evidence was ambiguous, Luce knew it was important to help future scholars along with the evidence to other potential and possibly conflicting interpretations by providing them with translations, collaborative translations (not advocating a return to colonial era practices here).

I also get the sense that Luce and his wife really rose above their colonial era circumstances. That he was finally expelled without the opportunity to collect his papers was tragic. Although I sense that people are not supposed to or not allowed to or perhaps embarassed to talk about this (depending on who and where you live), because in the post-colonial intellectual milieu of the 1950s and 60s along with the Anglo-Burmese and Christian missionary sponsored schools perhaps he was the colonial bogeyman, the colonial government already having picked up and went home. Missionary schools and hospitals founded in the colonial era are still providing Thais invaluable services (I'm not a missionary).

There were other westerners expelled from Burma for being "CIA spies" like the missionary Paul Lewis who worked in the Eastern Shan States in Kengtung much later, but unlike Luce, Lewis was involved in very suspect state projects like hill tribe sterilization programs in neighboring Thailand. Even defended himself before U.S. Congress and in a documentary. Outrageous, hideous stuff. Anyway, Luce's wife Tee Tee Luce did what was right and now half a century later her name lives on in great respect. Should be a lesson for all of us.

One thing I'd like to see is what happened to his research materials after he was deported from Burma and how these materials were perhaps used without acknowledgement. I want to know not because I'm some perverse troublemaker who just wants to uncover dirt and make trouble, but because if this is what happened then it is historical truth. The dust should be whisked away for all to see and appreciate, not avoid out of embarassment.

Here's the announcement:

From Bloomsbury to Burma: the Luce Collection
Harold White Fellow Lecture - Pamela Gutman

Thursday, June 22, 2006 5:30 pm - 6:30 pm
Australian National University, School of Asia and the Pacific

Gordon Hannington Luce was a Cambridge Apostle and poet who went to Burma as Professor of English Literature and soon embarked on the writing of its history, literature and art. His correspondence with Cambridge friends such as J.M. Keynes, E.M. Forster and Arthur Waley reflects his intellectual journey from the classical world to the Orient. Luce made important contributions in a wide range of fields, including linguistics, ethnography, literature, epigraphy and history,but his major contribution was the three volume Old Burma - Early Pagan, published in New York in 1969. His letters and diaries illustrate his experiences with the colonial administration and Burmese elite, his escape from the Japanese invasion and his role in the development of Asian studies in Burma and in England. Above all they reveal him to have been not only a dedicated scholar and teacher but also a great humanist.

Dr Pamela Gutman is an Honorary Associate in the Department of Art History and Theory at Sydney University. She has written extensively on Burmese art and history, especially the ancient kingdom of Arakan. She worked with Luce on Jersey in 1974, and during her Harold White Fellowship undertook research to write his biography.