Saturday, 10 August 2013

A Southeast Asia Reading List

I've been asked by Thomas Greer, a very interesting blogger, to produce a reading list for southeast Asian history.  This is a big task, especially as I use the term 'southeast Asia' quite broadly, including eastern Indonesia and, to some extent, New Guinea, in addition to all of the islands and the southeast Asian mainland (up to, in my view, the Changjiang, or Yangtze).  I certainly don't have expertise in the whole area, and some of it is still a little mysterious to me.  My knowledge is uneven: I know a fair bit about the poetic language of Timor and the Sawu Sea, but next to nothing about the music of Thailand.  I should also point out that much of my understanding of the area comes from academic articles rather than popular summaries or monographs, which is absolutely necessary for coming to grips with the central issues.

So I'm going to confine myself to the following criteria: the books I note will all be in English, and about southeast Asia from Assam and Tibet in the west to the Philippines and New Guinea in the east, and from southern China in the north to Timor and Tanimbar in the south.  The majority will be concerned with southeast Asia before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1511.  The Portuguese capture of Melaka and the expedition of Antonio d'Abreu to Maluku in the same year had profound effects on most of the area.  It's a good cut-off point.  To fit in with my recent theme of exploring eastern Indonesia, I will include a larger number of works on the area than is truly representative, and many of them will be ethnographic or museum-based books dealing with more recent events and objects.  I'm going to keep updating this list, and I'll tweet it or something similar every time I do.  It would be impossible to list everything useful in one go, so I'm keeping it fairly short to begin with.  I'm doing it all by what I can remember, so I'll order the list by priority rather than alphabetizing it.

This is an extremely diverse area.  Among the language families present are Sino-Tibetan, Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Miao-Yao, Daic (Tai-Kadai), Alor-Pantar, Trans-New Guinea, and probably a couple of others.  It also has a very diverse recent history, and has rarely functioned as a discrete unit.  I'm not interested in grouping together these works on any other basis than the geographical one.


Hall, Kenneth.  2011.  A history of early southeast Asia: maritime trade and societal development, 100-1500.  Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
(This is a very clear and concise overview of the entire region.  I haven't noticed any major errors and the scholarship is very up-to-date.  See this review on for some comments on the book, however.  My main problem with it is that, like almost all the overviews that exist, Hall largely ignores eastern Indonesia.)

Tarling, Nicholas (ed).  2000.  The Cambridge history of southeast Asia, volume 1 part 1: from early times to c. 1500.  Cambridge: CUP.
(There are four volumes in the Cambridge history, and I'm sure they're all good, although I've only read this one.  I read it about four years ago and my notes on it are buried somewhere unreachable, but I feel confident recommending it as a general introduction.  Hall's or Cambridge's - take your pick.)

Stuart-Fox, Martin.  2003.  A short history of China and southeast Asia: tribute, trade, and influence.  Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.
(Stuart-Fox has written a generally accurate overview of relations between China and southeast Asia.  He concentrates on Chinese and southeast Asian ideologies and their formative periods, and provides useful general information on early Vietnam, especially as it related to China.  He ignores eastern Indonesia entirely, and the account continues right up to the present, meaning that there isn't sufficient space to explore the role of minority groups.  I believe it has some other minor issues and lacunae that I noted when I read it, but which I've now forgotten.  I still recommend it, though.)

Lockard, Craig.  2009.  Southeast Asia in world history.  Oxford: OUP
(A good account of southeast Asian history; read it while studying and failed to digest it, actually, but I'm sure it would be a good intro to the area for the total neophyte.  It goes right up to the present day.)

Reid, Anthony.  1988.  Southeast Asia in the age of commerce: 1450-1680.  New Haven: Yale University Press.  (Two volumes)
(A brilliant account of a pivotal period in the history of southeast Asia.  It doesn't fit within the scheme I've laid out above, but that's not so important, because it's really good.)

Coedes, Georges.  1968.  The Indianized states of southeast Asia.  Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
(Coedes's is the standard work on the so-called 'Indianization' of southeast Asia, i.e, the process by which ideas, languages, religions, and trade objects from south Asia came to overwhelm western southeast Asia.  His ideas have been superseded in some areas - specifically, the idea of Indianization is now held to be much more complex than he allows, and much more dependent on native southeast Asian resources and initiative - but he knew the area so well and contributed so much to its study that it is a must-read.)

Scott, James.  2010.  The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland southeast Asia.  New Haven: Yale.
(This famous and fascinating books takes a completely different angle on southeast Asia, focusing on the hills and hill tribes rather than the settled civilizations of the lowlands.  It is also, in part, a comparative work, looking at ethnogenesis in other parts of the world in light of southeast Asian data.  It's very interesting but its conclusions are hard to verify, and it has been attacked by those in the know.  Recommended, though.)

Manguin, Mani, and Wade (eds).  2011.  Early interactions between south and southeast Asia.  Institute of southeast Asian studies.
(A collection of essays dealing with various aspects of the so-called 'Indianization' process, this is an essential work in understanding the real nature of the movement of ideas and people between south and southeast Asia.  Star names in the line-up and lots of brilliant articles.)

Shaffer, Lynda Norene.  1994.  Maritime southeast Asia to 1500.  M. E. Sharpe.
(I confess to not having read this book, but I've heard good things about it and have leafed through it.  Could be a good choice if you're pressed for time and only want to know about maritime southeast Asia.)


Bellwood, Peter and Glover, Ian (eds).  2004.  Southeast Asia: from prehistory to history.  Oxford: Routledge.
(A classic collection of essays on southeast Asia edited by two pre-eminent archaeologists; does what it says on the tin.  Essential, I think.)

Bellwood, Peter.  1997.  Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian archipelago.  ANU Press.
(An absolute classic and one of the most commonly-cited texts in the prehistory of maritime southeast Asia.  Particularly interesting because it isn't all about humans, by which I mean that it contains plenty of information about the flora and fauna of the Malay archipelago in the Pleistocene and Holocene.)

Bellina, Berenice (ed).  2010.  50 years of archaeology in southeast Asia: essays in honour of Ian Glover.  Bangkok: River Books.
(Another collection of essays on a number of topics and areas within southeast Asia.  Includes Timor, Sulawesi, and other parts of eastern Indonesia in the work, which is good, because much of Glover's work was in the east.)

Higham, Charles.  1989.  The archaeology of mainland southeast Asia.  Cambridge: CUP.
(Slightly old, and only dealing with the mainland, this is still a useful and interesting text.)

Higham, Charles.  1996.  The bronze age in southeast Asia.  Cambridge: CUP.
(A classic survey of a pivotal period; like all of Higham's work, it is excellent and easy to read.  It is also useful as a reference.)

O'Reilly, Dougald.  2006.  Early civilizations of southeast Asia.  Altamira Press.
(A useful text whose title is somewhat misleading; it deals only with the mainland.  But it's a comprehensive and easy-reading survey of mainland southeast Asian archaeology and it comes highly recommended by the experts.)


Coe, Michael.  2005.  Angkor and the Khmer civilization.  Thames & Hudson.
(A really good introduction to Angkor and literate civilization in mainland southeast Asia.  Coe, a Mayanist and archaeologist with decades of experience, sums up the issues incredibly well.)

Higham, Charles.  2003.  The civilization of Angkor.  Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
(Higham's has fewer images than Coe's and - frankly - isn't as well-written.  But it contains a very high level of detail and its summarising chapter is one of the most useful crib sheets for mainland southeast Asia that you could possibly read.  So I recommend it highly.)

Freeman, Michael and Jacques, Claude.  1999.  Ancient Angkor.  Weatherfield.
(The perfect guide for visiting Angkor, it also includes a high level discussion of Angkor's history, archaeology, and art, and is particularly good for helping to understand the temples and iconography of the Khmer capital region.)


There are few good English language resources on Myanmar, and specifically the civilizations of Pagan and Upper Burma.  But these are useful:

Aung-Thwin, Michael and Aung-Thwin Maitrii.  2012.  A history of Myanmar since ancient times.  London: Reaktion books.
(A controversial book, this is one of the only up-to-date surveys of the area's history to post-colonial times.  Keep an ear out for newer work, especially if it attacks this book.  My review is here.)

Moore, Elizabeth.  2007.  Early landscapes of Myanmar.  Bangkok: River books.
(A book packed full of information - definitely one of the best books on Myanmar you'll find.  The archaeological information is much more accurate than in the Aung-Thwins' book.  It really fleshes out Myanmar's prehistory.  It's not compelling reading, however; while the information is solid and it's certainly interesting, it's hardly Baby's First Archaeology Book.)

To supplement this you could try:

Luce, Gordon.  1969.  Early Pagan.  New York: J. J. Augustin.
(A good book representing the old scholarship on Pagan, Myanmar's foremost ancient/medieval civilization.  This is the stuff the Aung-Thwins want to overturn.  It is quite floridly written but not difficult to get through, and it covers the early arguments about the urban and Pagan periods.)

Leach, Edmund.  1964 (2nd ed.)  Political systems of highland Burma.  London: LSE.
(Not a strictly historical work, Leach conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Myanmar before and during the Second World War.  It's a key work in the academic understanding of the region and remains exceptionally interesting reading.)

Kapstein, Michael.  2006.  The Tibetans.  Oxford: Blackwell.
(This isn't obviously related to Burma.  But the Tibetans did campaign in Nanzhao, and Kapstein gives some information about Nanzhao-Tibetan relations.  As the Mranma - ethnic Burmans - are held by everyone except the Aung-Thwins to have migrated from Yunnan in the wake of a Nanzhao invasion of Myanmar, Nanzhao is pivotal.)

Having not read it myself (it came out last month), you could also try:

Stadtner, Douglas and Freeman, Michael.  2013.  Ancient Pagan.  Bangkok: River Books.
(It seems to be a guide to visiting Pagan, which more and more people are doing.  I should grab a copy at some point.)


Vietnam is a nation with a long history of north/south divides, going right back to the earliest historical records (although the archaeology is different).  The south, more-or-less, was, until relatively recently, Austronesian-speaking and came under the domain of the Cham, who were probably organised into several distinct polities.  The north was Austroasiatic-speaking and was the home of the Vietnamese language and its speakers.  The south received more Indian influence, the north more Chinese influence.

Schweyer, Anne-Valerie.  2012.  Ancient Vietnam.  Bangkok: River Books.
(A good introduction to Vietnamese civilization - I should get around to reviewing it properly at some point.)

Taylor, Keith.  2013.  A history of the Vietnamese.  Cambridge: CUP.
(Got good reviews, came out a little over a month ago, and Taylor is an expert.  I'm sure this is a good book, although I haven't read it yet.)

Lockhart and Phuong (eds).  2011.  The Cham of Vietnam.  Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.
(A collection of essays on the Cham, whose civilization, Campa, occupied southern Vietnam.  Great scholars and great contributions.)

Hardy, Cucarzi, and Zolese (eds).  2009.  Champa and the archaeology of My Son.  Singapore: NUS Press.
(An odd book that includes essays on Cham civilization in addition to an archaeological dissection of My Son, the pre-eminent site of Campa.  It's actually very good, although it's hard to see how the historical essays would be useful if you were interested enough to be conversant with the archaeology of My Son.  I still recommend it.)


It's rather a pity that there isn't a single solid work on the Tai-Kadai-speaking peoples, who lived in prehistoric times in southern China and migrated south, into mainland southeast Asia and Assam, in the twelfth century.  The closest thing we've got is:

Diller, Edmondson, and Luo (eds).  2011.  The Tai-Kadai languages.  Oxford: Routledge.
(Deals also with the origins of Tai-Kadai and the many minority languages of China and southeast Asia.  A linguistic work, it isn't primarily concerned with history or anthropology, but it informs both of those fields.)

Higham, Charles.  2012.  Early Thailand.  Bangkok: River Books.
(My review is here.  This isn't the only book you could read on ancient Thailand, but it does seem like the only one you'll actually need.  It's comes highly recommended.  It's a model for how to write a popular archaeology book, and incorporates both genetic and linguistic evidence.)

Tambiah, Stanley.  1977.  World conqueror and world renouncer.  Cambridge: CUP.
(A classic work on Buddhism and the state in southeast Asia.)


There are surprisingly few works on the Philippines, but of those that do exist, these two are my favourites:

Scott, William Henry.  1997.  Barangay.  Ateneo de Manila University Press.
(This is a study of the pre-Hispanic Filipino based solely on Spanish texts.  It's entirely ethnohistoric, as it makes clear even from its first lines.  It's fascinating nonetheless.  Scott was the king of pre-Hispanic Philippine studies, and his other books are good too, as far as I know; I have only read this and his work on pre-Hispanic source materials for Philippine history.)

Junker, Laura L.  1999.  Raiding, Trading, and Feasting.  Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
(This is a very academic study of pre-Hispanic Filipino society resting primarily on archaeological studies of a small number of sites, including among them the author's own fieldwork site.  Ethnohistoric sources are also prominent.  This is all set within the context of comparative archaeological studies of chiefdoms and chieftainship.)


Indonesia is a big place and I'm going to divide it into two - west and east.  The west is more 'Indianized'; it is the one you'll read about in overviews of the region.  The east, despite its economic importance, is generally neglected.

Wolters, O. W.  1967.  Early Indonesian commerce.  Cornell.
(Wolters wrote plenty of excellent books on southeast Asia and, specifically, Srivijaya, a maritime polity centered on Palembang, Sumatra, in the late-first millennium CE.  This is one of the best books he wrote, and although the scholarship is now rather old, it's a good place to start.)

Jacq-Hergoualc'h, Michel.  2001.  The Malay peninsula.  Brill.
(Translated by Victoria Hobson from the French, this is perhaps the best book you'll find on the ancient Malay peninsula.  Essential.)

Wheatley, Paul.  1973.  The golden Khersonese: studies in the historical geography of the Malay peninsula before 1500.  Greenwood Press.
(One of the standard introductions to the Malay peninsula in the time we're talking about here.  Not totally up-to-date, but still important.)

Bonatz, Miksic, Neidel, and Tjoa-Bonatz (eds).  2009.  From distant tales.  Cambridge Scholars Association.
(A collection of many excellent essays on Sumatra, most of them employing ethnographic or archaeological perspectives to understand Sumatran history.  Uneven, as all essay collections are bound to be, but fascinating.)

Hellwig and Tagliacozzo (eds).  2009.  The Indonesia reader.  Duke University Press.
(A collection of bits and bobs on Indonesia.  It goes right up to the present, and includes excerpts from newspapers, autobiographies, navigator's descriptions, and so on.  It also includes a translation of some of the Kutai stones, the earliest writing yet discovered in Indonesia.  It's not exceptionally good on ancient history, but it's still useful and interesting, especially for the neophyte.  As I'm including this book, I won't include Geertz's on Bali (the famous Negara: the theatre state), which in any case deals with nineteenth century Bali.  Geertz's work is excerpted within.)

Brown, Colin.  2004.  A short history of Indonesia.  Allen & Unwin.
(Does what it says on the tin; short, concise, includes modern history.  A good book if you know almost nothing about the place.)

Munoz, Paul Michel.  2007.  Early kingdoms of the Indonesian archipelago and Malay peninsula.  Singapore: Didier Millet.
(Only deals with western Indonesia and Malaysia.  It's an inadequate text and the epitome of a curate's egg.  It's worth reading as it's a fairly useful summary of the historiography of the region as we now have it.  The appendices are really good and the data are, on the whole, accurate.  It is as poor on prehistory as it is poorly written.  But it'll do as an introduction, I think.)

Soedjatmoko.  2006.  An introduction to Indonesian historiography.  Equinox Publishing.
(This is a reprint of an old text - a collection of excellent essays by excellent contributors on just how to understand the extant texts dealing with ancient Indonesia, including the Javanese ones and ones written by visitors.  Very useful.)

Forshee, Jill.  2006.  Culture and customs of Indonesia. London: Greenwood Press.
(Another useful introduction; covers a number of different topics.  I haven't read the entire text by any means, but I am familiar with Forshee's more academic work and I feel comfortable recommending this book.)

Barnes, Ruth and Hunt Kahlenberg, Mary (eds).  2010.  Five centuries of Indonesian textiles.  Prestel.
(A brilliant, overwhelming, enticing book on Indonesian textiles, including dozens of images of cloths, essays on their uses and symbolism, a history of the craft, its influence on life in Indonesia, and much more.  I couldn't recommend it more highly.)

Endicott, Kirk.  1970.  An analysis of Malay magic.  Oxford: OUP.
(One of the classic works on magic in southeast Asia, this is an interesting text in its own right.  It looks at the data in several classic works on Malay magic (including Skeat's work, Malay Magic) to forge a better understanding of supernatural belief in Malaysia.)

Kinney, Ann.  2003.  Worshiping Siva and Buddha: the temple art of East Java.  Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
(A grand and magnificent work on East Javanese temples and architecture, including copious photographs.  It's especially good for including items from museum collections alongside descriptions of the sites themselves, enhancing both.  The text is also informative and excellent.  Highly recommended, even to people who don't want to know all that much about East Java - the photos are brilliant in themselves.)


De Josselin de Jong, P. E. (ed).  1977.  Structural anthropology in the Netherlands.  Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde.
(A classic collection of early Dutch essays on eastern Indonesian topics.  Essential.)

Fox, J. J. (ed).  1980.  The flow of life.  Harvard.
(Another essential collection of essays, this time from international scholars.  Also essential.  James Fox is your man for eastern Indonesia.)

Bellwood, Fox, and Tryon (eds).  2006.  The Austronesians.  ANU Press.  (Can be found for free online, alongside companion volumes.)
(An excellent collection of essays, not specifically concerned with eastern Indonesia.  All manner of topics are addressed in the series and they are one of the cornerstones of the modern understanding of Austronesian as an academic subject.)

McKinnon, Susan.  1991.  From a shattered sun.  University of Wisconsin Press.
(An excellent, detailed ethnography of the Fordatan ethnic group of Tanimbar.)

Schulte Nordholt, H. G.  1981.  The political system of the Atoni of Timor.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
(The indispensable ethnography of West Timor.)

Fox, J. J.  1977.  Harvest of the palm.  Harvard.
(This is an excellent book.  Its subject is subsistence economies around the Sawu Sea.  It sounds dull but it really is not.  Among the subjects it addresses are the varying impacts of the Dutch and Portuguese colonial enterprises, the divergent attitudes to warfare and raiding across different islands, and the nature of Asian palm-based economies in the pre-modern period.  It's another one of the indispensable books on eastern Indonesia.)

Forth, Gregory.  1981.  Rindi.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
(Like many works on eastern Indonesia, this was published in the Netherlands.  It is an ethnographic account by an anthropologist of a community on the island of Sumba.  All of Forth's work is incredibly good and well-worth reading - this is just one example.  I particularly like his Dualism and Hierarchy, which is much more recent.)

De Jonge, Nico and van Dijk, Toos.  1995.  Forgotten islands of Indonesia.  Singapore: Periplus.
(A detailed breakdown of the art and architecture of Maluku Tenggara, the far southeastern islands of Indonesia - Kei, Tanimbar, Aru, and so on - in terms of their prehistory, ancient history, archaeology, and contemporary symbolism.  Excellent.)

Barnes, R. H.  1996.  Sea hunters of Indonesia.  Oxford: OUP.

(A fantastic ethnographic work on the village of Lamalera, Nusa Tenggara Timur, which is famous for its whale hunting traditions.  Copious detail.)

Barnes, R. H.  1974.  Kedang.  Oxford: OUP.
(Another fantastic ethnography - perhaps one of the best ethnographic works in any region, and certainly one of the best in eastern Indonesia, although it faces stiff competition.)

O'Connor, Spriggs, and Veth (eds).  2011.  The archaeology of the Aru islands.  ANU Press.  (Can also be found free on the ANU Press website.)
(A collection of essays on the archaeology of Aru, near New Guinea, in eastern Indonesia.)

Needham, R.  1987.  Mamboru.  Oxford: OUP.
(A fairly short and relatively incomplete ethnography of a domain on Sumba.  It reveals many of the patterns found elsewhere in eastern Indonesia and is generally quite a good text, like much of Needham's oeuvre.)

Hicks, David.  1990.  Kinship and religion in eastern Indonesia.  Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.
(A short overview of these interwoven topics in eastern Indonesia in the form of several connected essays.  Worth reading, but it feels incomplete.  Hicks's work on Viqueque, Portuguese Timor, is also worth reading.)

Monk, de Fretes, and Reksodiharjo-Lilley.  1997.  The ecology of Nusa Tenggara and Maluku.  Singapore: Periplus.
(A long, detailed account of the ecology of Nusa Tenggara and Maluku, including descriptions of flora, fauna, geological activity, and present conservation issues in the area.  Also includes a large-ish section on the people of NT&M.  Really useful for anybody doing any kind of research on this part of the world.)

Andaya, Leonard.  1993.  The world of Maluku.  Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
(An excellent historical work on Maluku in the early modern period. Strictly speaking this is outside of the bounds I set above, in that it is primarily about the post-1500 world, but it's good enough that that doesn't matter so much.)


The trade in aromatics is one of the main reasons for the importance of southeast Asia in world history, so it makes sense to put it in context.  (The other important trade was gold, but while there are plenty of guides to southeast Asian gold in museum collections, I don't know of any works dealing explicitly with the movement of gold in ancient history.)

Donkin, R. A.  2003.  Between east and west.  American Philosophical Society.
(Donkin was a geographer at Cambridge.  This indispensable book on the spice trade places it within the context of world history, analysing the products and their origins from the perspectives of Indian, China, Perso-Arabian, and European history, while going into their biology, reproduction, and island sources in Maluku and Timor.  He looks only at cloves, nutmeg, mace, and sandalwood, all of them Indonesian products.)

Hourani, George.  1995.  Arab seafaring.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.
(This reprint of Hourani's book on Arab navigation is interesting reading and is worthwhile for understanding the kind of trade undertaken by navigators on the Indian Ocean, including Indonesia.  It discusses the Periplus Maris Erythraei, and other similar texts, before getting onto the Arabs.  Interesting stuff, especially the information on early Arab seafaring; it is often claimed that Arabs had been sailing long before the Islamic period, but in fact there is little or no evidence of this.  Persian and Greco-Egyptian influence on Arab techniques is emphasised in this short and easy-to-read book.)


India was an incredibly important influence on southeast Asia in this period - in terms of religion and scribal traditions, its influence was unparalleled, and if you know anything about Srivijaya, then you'll probably know that it was defeated by an invading army from the Chola empire based in south India in the early eleventh century.

Subbarayalu, Y.  2011.  South India under the Cholas.  Delhi: OUP India.
(An excellent collection of essays on the Chola empire by the contemporary authority, including such topics as its formation, history, trade contacts, structure, and epigraphy.  Derives primarily from epigraphic sources, and even has a section on Tamil inscriptions in Indonesia.  Excellent stuff.)

Chakrabarti, Dilip.  2009.  An archaeological history of India.  Delhi: OUP India.
(A great text on early Indian archaeology up to the early first millennium CE.  Useful for understanding the influences to which southeast Asia was subject.)

Blurton, Richard.  1992.  Hindu art.  London: British Museum Press.
(A detailed and well-written overview of the main themes in Hindu art and iconography.  Places everything within historical context.  Doesn't deal at all with southeast Asian Hindu works, but it's still useful for understanding them.)


China has also played an important role in southeast Asia, and was undoubtedly the most important diplomatic partner of southeast Asian states in all periods.  The peoples of southeast Asia are also connected to China through plausible prehistoric connections between Austroasiatic, Tai-Kadai, Miao-Yao, and Austronesian languages way back in the southern Chinese Neolithic, meaning that a thorough knowledge of China seems essential for making sense of southeast Asia at any stage.

Barnes, Gina.  1999.  Rise of civilization in east Asia.  Thames & Hudson.
(A great book for introducing yourself to Chinese, Korean, and Japanese archaeology.  A good starter, which is all I feel compelled to include in a reading list on southeast Asia.)

Flad, Rowan and Chen, Pochan.  2013.  Ancient central China.  Cambridge: CUP.
(A great book on the civilizations of the Changjiang (Yangtze) valley, in central China.  I consider this to be the border between 'China' and 'southeast Asia', at least in prehistory.  An excellent book, if a little jargon-y.)

Hansen, Valerie.  2000.  The open empire.  W. W. Norton.
(A history of China to 1600 - perhaps the best single volume introductory history.)


The Oceanic languages - i.e., the Austronesian languages of the broader Pacific, including Micronesian, Melanesian, and Polynesian languages - are now believed to be a branch of the Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian languages.  This means that they are closely related to the languages of Indonesia, especially eastern Indonesia.  It is exciting to consider the possibility of using Oceanic data to better understand Indonesian prehistory, but it can only be done if the relevant experts have read one another's material.

Kirch, P. V.  1996.  The Lapita peoples.  Wiley-Blackwell.
(An introduction to (probably) the first Austronesian speakers in Oceania and their archaeology.  Couldn't be better.)

Kirch, P. V.  1989.  The evolution of the Polynesian chiefdoms.  Cambridge: CUP.
(Another book by Kirch, this is an interesting book in its own right, but it is especially fascinating to consider the diarchic social structure of ancient Tonga from the perspective of eastern Indonesia.)

Foley, William.  1986.  The Papuan languages of New Guinea.  Cambridge: CUP.
(An introduction to the non-Austronesian languages of New Guinea, particularly interesting for its attempt to understand New Guinea's prehistory through comparative linguistic work.  Old, but hasn't been superseded, as far as I know.)


Waterson, Roxana.  1997 [1990].  The living house.  Thames & Hudson.
(A brilliant book on domestic architecture and kinship in southeast Asia.  It includes eastern Indonesia - in fact, it focuses primarily on maritime southeast Asia - and there are copious photographs.  The text is excellent and informative.  If there is a quibble that I have, it's with the inclusion of information on early Japanese houses based on the claim that Japanese has an Austronesian substrate.)

This is a work in progress.  If you know of any other texts that should be included, let me know!  I can spot a few gaps myself, and I'll fill them in when I have more time.  I've included little or nothing on Sulawesi, Borneo, or northern Maluku, for instance, and I want more books on Thailand - I've read a few, but can't knowledgeably recommend many others.  So if you know of any good works, do tell.


  1. Fantastic post. Ashamed to say that the only one of these I've read Schaffer's Maritime southeast Asia to 1500. Fairly dry and very concise, but a good starting place, I suppose, for those who have never heard of Srivijaya. Coe's book on Angkor is at the top of my priority reading list, however.

    Are there any generals books on SE Asian religion, culture or other ethnographic details (say, kinship structures) that you consider particularly useful for understanding the region?

  2. There are no commonalities in southeast Asian religion, so there's no single book to recommend on it. Bit of a pity, but most of the information on pre-Islamic religion is to be found in the overviews and texts on art, archaeology, and so forth.

    As for kinship, Waterson's The Living House covers a lot of it in surveying domestic architecture. But that's mostly maritime southeast Asia, not the mainland. There are some generalizations to be made about southeast Asia: it has always had a comparatively low population density and generally little political centralization, with almost no instances of purely unilineal descent, meaning that succession could almost always be challenged by somebody. All states were weak in the pre-modern period. In eastern Indonesia and the Pacific, diarchy was relatively common, but this was much less true in the west or the mainland. Agriculture was almost everywhere, with foragers found only sporadically in the Philippines, Malay Peninsula, Borneo, and wherever the Sama-Bajaw ('sea gypsies') were/are to be found. Metal-working was not universal, with much of eastern Indonesia lacking an indigenous tradition and instead acquiring metal objects through trade. Women in southeast Asia have generally had a higher status than elsewhere, with often very prominent public roles and, in some cases, an emphasis on equality or female superiority in some aspects. As far as I know - and I'm not expert - homosexuality was almost universally tolerated until the arrival of Islam and European religions, although in many cases it is hard to verify or falsify this.

    Apart from that, it's hard to make any other generalizations, so there are few overviews of topics like that. The interesting thing about the region is how all of the different groups and lifestyles were linked in trade, war, and other unifying factors.

  3. I too am interested in indian ocean studies, cotton trade motifs.
    Interesting biblio

  4. I too am interested in indian ocean studies, cotton trade motifs.
    Interesting biblio


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