Monday, June 12, 2006

Spreadsheets for historical data

Google has just started making collaborative web-based spreadsheets available.

During the last week I've been working on a chronology that synchronizes and compares the two primary sources for the Razadarit era (c. 1395-1421), the Razadarit Ayeidawpon and the Burmese Chronicle.

Luckily, the Burmese scholar San Lwin's translation can be used for the former, but the later is only available in Burmese.

Even you read Burmese these sources are difficult to read and make sense of because the events often flow together indistinguishably with long didactic stories. Names are also different between the two sources which often look at the same events from different perspectives. Some copyist errors are likely to have put the narrative sequence of events out of order also.

Anyway, I intend to put a proposed chronology for the Razadarit era here on the web. The idea is that it is a start, not the end, of work on the problem of dating events during this era.

I always feel uncomfortable when I do this since many Burmese and Southeast Asians in general feel that a westerner, a white westerner at that (I can't help it), has no business writing the history of Burma, that the Burmese essentially own their history, which I guess is right in some sense, and has certainly led me in the direction of world history. I love Burma and Burmese people as well as Thai, but I will never be Burmese or Thai and write from this perspective, although I do recognize the legitimacy of writing from this perspective, I also believe that other more cross-cultural comparative perspectives are possible and that that these perspectives can show certain things that many cultures share in common. This interest probably stems from my status as someone who has worked in many cultures and countries, even being resident in one of two countries that I was very familiar with, while it was at war with the second and having to listen to all the lies and propaganda that go along with warfare. So I hope you can understand my perspective. At this stage all I care about is the truth. I know postmodernists argue that you can never know the exact truth. If person x puts a gun to person y's head and pulls the trigger there is a truth about x that even in this day and age is often covered up. This is what I want to get at. This is why history is an important discipline.