HST 585: Southeast Asia – War and Peace Since 1945


At various stages in history Southeast Asia has been called a cultural crossroads, colonial construction, Cold War battleground, economic miracle, safe haven for drug lords, and hotbed of Islamic extremism. Throughout the 20th century, most countries in the region have endured violent conflicts borne of imperial rivalries, decolonisation, nationalism, ethnic tensions, ideology, and great power contestation. In fact, revolutions and wars in Southeast Asia were pivotal in shaping the international geo-political order. For example, conflicts in Indochina lasted more than fifty years and consumed not only Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos – turning them into the most heavily bombed countries in history – but also regional and global powers like France, the United Kingdom, Japan, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. This course will deal with the many historical myths and realities of Southeast Asia and the ways in which the region has affected international relations since 1945. We will begin by briefly examining more “ancient” histories and the emergence of distinct cultural identities in the region, focusing on the 18th and 19th centuries. Then we will turn to colonization, nationalism, and the struggle for independence, covering the 19th and early 20th centuries. Using case studies from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaya, Indonesia, Burma (Myanmar) and the Philippines we will then explore the diverse historical experiences of countries and societies in the region since 1945. In doing so we will scrutinize ideas of nation, state, and citizenship and explore the lasting legacies of political, social, and cultural change over the past few decades. The course also examines a host of contemporary issues in Southeast Asia, such ethnic tensions, separatist movements, religious revival, regionalism, economic globalisation, mass migration, tourism, environmental degradation, corruption, and the continuing political instability of some states.



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