New Publication: Changing Lives in Laos: Society, Politics, and Culture in a Post-Socialist State by Vatthana Pholsena and Vanina Boute (eds.)

Pholsena, Vatthana and Vanina Boute (eds.), Changing Lives in Laos: Society, Politics, and Culture in a Post-Socialist State, Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2017

One of the lesser-studied countries in Southeast Asia, Laos has gone through momentous changes over the last two decades. Social and economic transformations have reshaped the country considerably and been felt both in cities and by the rural households that account for 70% of the population. This multi-disciplinary collection of articles penned by leading scholars on Laos in the fields of anthropology, geography, history, and political science explores key issues critical to our understanding of important dynamics in present-day Laos, including: the historical and sociological dimensions of the political elite; the correlated phenomena of agrarian change and migration; and the emergence of new relational dynamics among peoples of diverse ethnic origins, social backgrounds, cultural affinities, and economic aspirations in an increasingly mobile society.

New Publication: Imperial Intoxication: Alcohol and the Making of Colonial Indochina by Gerard Sasges

Sasges, Gerard, Imperial Intoxication: Alcohol and the Making of Colonial Indochina, Hawaii: University of Hawai’i Press, 2017

Imperial Intoxication provides a unique window on Indochina between 1860 and 1939. It illuminates the contradictory mix of modern and archaic, power and impotence, civil bureaucracy and military occupation that characterized colonial rule. It highlights the role Indochinese played in shaping the monopoly, whether as reformers or factory workers, illegal distillers or the agents sent to arrest them. And it links these long-ago stories to global processes that continue to play out today.

New Publication: Ancient Southeast Asia by John N Miksic and Goh Geok Yian


Miksic, John N and Goh Geok Yian, Ancient Southeast Asia, London and New York: Routledge, 2016

Ancient Southeast Asia provides readers with a much needed synthesis of the latest discoveries and research in the archaeology of the region, presenting the evolution of complex societies in Southeast Asia from the protohistoric period, beginning around 500BC, to the arrival of British and Dutch colonists in 1600. Well-illustrated throughout, this comprehensive account explores the factors which established Southeast Asia as an area of unique cultural fusion. Miksic and Goh explore how the local population exploited the abundant resources available, developing maritime transport routes which resulted in economic and cultural wealth, including some of the most elaborate art styles and monumental complexes ever constructed.

The book’s broad geographical and temporal coverage, including a chapter on the natural environment, provides readers with the context needed to understand this staggeringly diverse region. It utilizes French, Dutch, Chinese, Malay-Indonesian and Burmese sources and synthesizes interdisciplinary theoretical perspectives and data from archaeology, history and art history. Offering key opportunities for comparative research with other centres of early socio-economic complexity, Ancient Southeast Asiaestablishes the area’s importance in world history.

New Publication: Contested Memoryscapes: The Politics of Second World War Commemoration in Singapore by Hamzah Muzaini and Brenda S.A. Yeoh


Muzaini, Hamzah and Brenda S.A. Yeoh, Contested Memoryscapes: The Politics of Second World War Commemoration in Singapore, London and New York: Routledge, 2016

This book sets itself apart from much of the burgeoning literature on war commemoration within human geography and the social sciences more generally by analysing how the Second World War (1941–45) is remembered within Singapore, unique for its potential to shed light on the manifold politics associated with the commemoration of wars not only within an Asian, but also a multiracial and multi-religious postcolonial context. By adopting a historical materialist approach, it traces the genealogy of war commemoration in Singapore, from the initial disavowal of the war by the postcolonial government since independence in 1965 to it being embraced as part of national historiography in the early 1990s apparent in the emergence since then of various memoryscapes dedicated to the event. Also, through a critical analysis of a wide selection of these memoryscapes, the book interrogates how memories of the war have been spatially and discursively appropriated today by state (and non-state) agencies as a means of achieving multiple objectives, including (but not limited to) commemoration, tourism, mourning and nation-building. And finally, the book examines the perspectives of those who engage with or use these memoryscapes in order to reveal their contested nature as fractured by social divisions of race, gender, ideology and nationality.

The substantive book chapters will be based on archival and empirical data drawn from case studies in Singapore themed along different conceptual lenses including ethnicity; gender; postcoloniality, tourism and postmodernity; personal mourning; transnational remembrances and politics; and the preservation of original sites, stories and artefacts of war.

Collectively, they speak to and work towards shedding insights to the one overarching question: ‘How is the Second World War commemorated in postcolonial Singapore and what are some of the issues, politics and contestations which have accompanied these efforts to presence the war today, particularly as they are spatially and materially played out via different types of memoryscapes?’ The book also distinguishes itself from previous works written on war commemoration in Singapore, mainly by social and military historians, particularly through its adoption of a geographical agenda that gives attention to issues of politics of space as it relates to remembrance and representations of memory.

[Book Launch] Ancient Southeast Asia by John N. Miksic and Goh Geok Yian

Join Professor John N. Miksic (NUS Dept of Southeast Asian Studies) and Associate Professor Goh Geok Yian (NTU HSS) at the launch of their latest publication ‘Ancient Southeast Asia’ on Fri, 11 Nov, at Level 16, The POD, National Library Building from 7pm.

Discounted copies of the book will be available at the launch.

Limited seats available. Registration is required via

New Publication: Three Centuries of Conflict in East Timor by Douglas Kammen



Kammen, Douglas, Three Centuries of Conflict in East Timor, US: Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Why does violence recur in some places, over long periods of time?  Douglas Kammen explores this pattern in Three Centuries of Conflict in East Timor, studying that island’s tragic past, focusing on the small district of Maubara.

Once a small but powerful kingdom embedded in long-distance networks of trade, over the course of three centuries the people of Maubara experienced benevolent but precarious Dutch suzerainty, Portuguese colonialism punctuated by multiple uprisings and destructive campaigns of pacification, Japanese military rule, and years of brutal Indonesian occupation. In 1999 Maubara was the site of particularly severe violence before and after the UN-sponsored referendum that finally led to the restoration of East Timor’s independence.

The questions posed in Three Centuries of Conflict in East Timor about recurring violence and local narratives apply to many other places besides East Timor—from the Caucasus to central Africa, and from the Balkans to China—wherever mass violence keeps recurring.

New Publication: How India Became Territorial by Itty Abraham



Abraham, Itty, How India Became Territorial, California, US: Stanford University Press, 2014.

Why do countries go to war over disputed lands? Why do they fight even when the territories in question are economically and strategically worthless? Drawing on critical approaches to international relations, political geography, international law, and social history, and based on close examination of the Indian experience during the 20th century, Itty Abraham addresses these important questions and offers a new – non-US and non-European focused – and productive way of thinking about foreign policy and inter-state conflicts over territory in Asia.

Highly Recommended by Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries – “It’s a Living – Work and Life in Vietnam Today”

It’s a Living – Work and Life in Vietnam Today by Gerard Sasges (ed.) has been selected by CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries as a “highly recommended” read. Check out the review by Peters, E.J. below.

It’s a Living gives voice to 67 Vietnamese workers from all walks of life. The respondents paint vivid pictures of their daily routines and the particular rewards and challenges of each career path. The short chapters are balanced between people who take pleasure in their work and those who are mostly there for the paycheck. Apparently ordinary jobs, such as factory worker, farmer, and bank employee, are interspersed with more offbeat occupations, from grey hair plucker to rat catcher. Interviews touch on issues of corruption and arbitrary enforcement of regulations; they also reveal the importance of education and aspirations of the Vietnamese for their children. A short introduction sets out the book’s major themes, but readers would benefit from more about Vietnamese socialism and how much workers have to pay toward the costs of education, health care, and retirement. Reading Bill Hayton’s Vietnam: Rising Dragon (2010) can provide more context about the country’s economic system. This book is a wonderful, evocative read for undergraduates or anyone with an interest in the people of Vietnam. Beautiful photos allow many of the book’s personalities to shine through.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.

–E. J. Peters, Culinary Historians of Northern California

Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition)

Peters, E.J. “It’s a living: work and life in Vietnam today.” CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries Mar. 2014: 1314. Academic OneFile. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.

Read abstract of the book.

New Publication: Interactions with a Violent Past: Reading Post-Conflict Landscapes in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam by Vatthana Pholsena and Oliver Tappe (eds.)


Pholsena, Vatthana and Oliver Tappe (eds.), Interactions with a Violent Past: Reading Post-Conflict Landscapes in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, Singapore/Thailand: NUS Press and IRASEC, 2013

The Second and Third Indochina Wars are the subject of important ongoing scholarship, but there has been little research on the lasting impact of wartime violence on local societies and populations, in Vietnam as well as in Laos and Cambodia. Today’s Lao, Vietnamese and Cambodian landscapes bear the imprint of competing violent ideologies and their perilous material manifestations. From battlefields and massively bombed terrain to reeducation camps and resettled villages, the past lingers on in the physical environment. The nine essays in this volume discuss post-conflict landscapes as contested spaces imbued with memory-work conveying differing interpretations of the recent past, expressed through material (even, monumental) objects, ritual performances, and oral narratives (or silences).

While Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese landscapes are filled with tenacious traces of a violent past, creating an unsolicited and malevolent sense of place among their inhabitants, they can in turn be transformed by actions of resilient and resourceful local communities.