This Week in Southeast Asian Studies (TWISEA)
March 29, 2016
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Ethnic Pasts & the Nation
Patrick (left) with John Buchanan and Judith Henchy in Yangon, Myanmar
Patrick McCormick received his PhD in History from UW in 2010. He is currently a Representative and Researcher of EFEO (French School of Asian Studies) in Myanmar. He’s also working on a project related to language contact through the Department of Comparative Linguistics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. He will be visiting UW in early April to talk about “Research in the New Myanmar”(April 5) and his book manuscript Untying Ethnic Pasts from the Nation: Writing New Histories from the Mons of Burma (April 6).

As an undergraduate, Patrick was first interested in Japan and Japanese language and literature. Then he learned about “historical connections with China,” so he became “curious about other places that had some connection with China,” such as Vietnam. “At one point I decided to take some classes on Southeast Asian history as an undergraduate,” Patrick said. “I really got a lot out of those courses.”
After finishing his degree, Patrick “gradually lost interest in Japan and decided instead to focus on Southeast Asian politics.” For graduate school, Patrick “started in political science with a focus on Burma.” “I hit on Burma probably because of the language – it’s not related to Japanese genetically, but does have a lot of structural similarities. That was the initial draw and my interest deepened over time,” he explained.
With such interests in languages and area studies, Patrick is indeed a polyglot. For Southeast Asia alone, he has “studied Burmese, Mon, Thai, Indonesian, and bits of Javanese.” Patrick, however, is cautious in speaking of Southeast Asia as a “cohesive unit.” “I’ve noticed that within Southeast Asia, local people generally only know a bit about their immediate neighbors and don’t really think in terms of the region, though that may change with the rising importance of ASEAN,” he explained. “Burmese people, for example, probably would not think about Java or Indonesia as a place with something in common with them, not least because they think of Indonesia as a Muslim country.”
Patrick is also aware of the relationship between language and identity. This awareness, in fact, is reflected in his dissertation and book manuscript. “Pre-colonial Burmese historiography gradually incorporated the Mon past into itself, a process spread up through some of the ideas and practices that the British introduced as a colonial power,” he said. “My interest now is to understand that process and to think how to write about Mons in the past in ways that aren’t only premised on ideas like ethnicity or the nation-state.”
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Upcoming Events (5)

Decolonizing Extinction:
Orangutans and the Work of Care in Sarawak, present-day Malaysia 

Dr. Juno (Rheana) Salazar Parreñas

Assistant Professor, Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies, Ohio State University


Thurs, March 31, 2016 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm

CMU 120

How can a living be made at the edge of extinction, when colonial legacies help determine who and what are in better positions to survive severe ecological impact?

This talk examines the rehabilitation of wildlife in Sarawak, present-day Malaysia, as a means to eke out a living for both endangered species native to Sarawak and the Sarawakian people whose job is to care for them. It looks at the everyday forms of enclosure at Sarawak’s orangutan rehabilitation centers that generate a political theory of decolonization and the embodied work of care at these sites in order to examine what kind of future is made possible for a species caught in an extinction economy.

This talk is based on seventeen months of ethnographic field research in Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia between 2008 and 2010.


Past Lives Present, Tense: Past-Life Memory in Contemporary Cambodia


Erik W. Davis
Associate Professor, Religious Studies, Macalester College

Mon, April 4, 3:30-5 p.m.

Thomson, Room 317

Past-life memory in Cambodia is common. In Buddhist scriptural practices, past-life memory is usually thought of in terms of the Buddhist cycle of saṃsāra, where past-life memory is often a prerequisite for advanced stages of spiritual accomplishment. However, in practice, past-life memory is often deeply disturbing to the rememberer, their family and their community. This presentation discusses three examples of contemporary past-life memory out of Erik's fieldwork in Cambodia, highlighting the practices that surround such memory and uses to which such memories are put. Examples include a young girl who remembers being her own uncle, a spiritual leader who claims to be the most important Buddhist leader of the Cambodian twentieth century, and another woman who put two families together in her youth, and has maintained their connections into her eighties.

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Research in the New Myanmar


Patrick McCormick
Researcher and Representative of EFEO, Branch Office in Myanmar

Tue, April 5, 4:00-5:30 p.m.

Communications Building (CMU), Room 120

As Burma begins to open up, there is great interest in doing research, both as foreign researchers doing their own projects, and as working with local researchers. Since 2010, many foreign governments and universities have tried to engage with local universities, but have found challenging an environment of low educational standards resulting from decades of neglect, not to mention difficult bureaucratic hurdles. Think tanks and civil society organizations act as centers of knowledge creation, not the universities. Patrick will speak both about the changing possibilities for engaging with local universities and about the social research of local organizations.

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Book Talk | Untying Ethnic Pasts from the Nation: Writing New Histories for the Mons of Burma

Patrick McCormick
Researcher and Representative of EFEO, Branch Office in Myanmar

Wed, April 6, 12:00-1:30 p.m.
Thomson Hall, Room 317
Ideas of the nation, ethnicity, and the nation-state continue to shape how we write the past in Burma, even as history as a discipline has moved beyond those premises elsewhere. The histories of most Burmese minorities have never been confined only to the modern nation-state of Burma. The pasts of many, such as of the Mons—one of the oldest civilization of Southeast Asia—have become incorporated into a national past, bound to Burma, and largely relegated to “ancient times.” Strikingly, Mon nationalists and intellectuals largely embrace this situation as a way to promote their visions of the past and future.
What are the possibilities for moving beyond these confines to talk about Mons in the past without following the logic of a national or ethnic history? Whose interests would such a project serve?

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Back to the Source: Music from Central Java

Friday, April 22, 2016, 8:00pm

Wayward Music Series at the Chapel Performance Space
Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, Seattle

Tickets at the door, $5–15
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Recommended Resources (2)

This section lists news items and other recently-published resources that have been recommended by faculty and grad students over the past week. To submit an item for next week, email

New Items:

Previously Listed:

  • Anthropology of Asia and Asian Americans: "This Facebook site will be a digital humanities site to make Asia more accessible to students. We will take academic books and try to animate the book in  5 minutes or less.  There will be Digital stories on Asian America and Political Anthropology."

  • Speaking about global issues to K-12 schools: Our Program Coordinator Linda Cuadra spoke about climate change at WSCSS Chelan 2016. "Preventing bigger climate change problems around the world must include reducing the energy we use in the United States. Sounds easy – but what would you give up? Linda designed a Hearts-style game to challenge teachers and their students to think about energy use, fossil fuel consumption, and different types of alternative energy."
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Jobs (1)

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Fellowships and Funding

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For general information on funding sources, including FLAS, visit the SEAC website
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Conferences and Calls for Papers

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Study Abroad

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Educators: Sign up for our K-14 educator emails for events and resources geared specifically towards teachers. 

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