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Historical Dictionary of Ancient Southeast Asia.

Historical Dictionary of Ancient Southeast Asia. By JOHN N. MIKSIC. Historical Dictionaries of Ancient Civilizations and Historical Eras. Lanham, Maryland: SCARECROW PRESS, 2007. Pp. xlix + 430, maps, figs., illus.

At first I was perplexed by the publication of this book. With the rise of on-line search engines, encyclopedias, databases, and even wikipedia(s). I imagined the age of the historical printed dictionary had passed. Moreover, with Southeast Asian Studies now firmly in the hands of social scientists and global studies proponents, the audience of humanists concerned with the pre-colonial and even preliterate civilizations of Java, Funan, Bagan, Si Satchanalai, Xiang Khouang, and Nakorn Sri Thammarat has become smaller and smaller. However, reading through Miksic's impressive work has renewed my belief, and will certainly inspire others, that area studies is not dead and that the ancient has much to teach us.

Miksic's introduction immediately addresses the concerns about the purpose of a reference guide to ancient Southeast Asia. He notes that there has not been a comprehensive textbook on Southeast Asia since the 1960s (although works by Anthony Reid and Victor Lieberman were certainly monumental efforts). He also notes that, besides the common practices of rice agriculture and water trade, the features that traditionally bound Southeast Asia as a definable object of study were actually "foreign" (i.e.. Indic and Sinic religio-cultural influences). This is a point, like many in the deliberately short introduction, that needs elaboration, for it is by no means certain that the geographical boundaries of "Southeast Asian Studies" can be fixed or that the field has any internal coherence, rather than having been born of modern political convenience.

With regard to ancient Southeast Asia, it is nonetheless noteworthy that Indic, Arabic, and Sinic classical and/or canonical literature, art, liturgies, and rituals change, often radically, when they are introduced into the Burmese, Malay, Vietnamese, Khmer, Lao, etc., intellectual communities. This fact may indeed justify treating Southeast Asia as a distinct field, but it also complicates its study, for. as Miksic correctly states, "during Southeast Asia's protohistoric period, roughly 200-600, more information is available in Chinese and Indian sources than in the region itself (p. xliv).

The scholarly attitudes towards the interaction between Southeast Asian culture and the foreign sources have also fluctuated over lime. Pioneer scholars, colonial officials, museum collectors, and translators such as C. O. Blagden, D. G. E. Hall, H. G. Quaritch Wales, J. A. Stewart, G. E. Luce, C. Hookyaas, George Coedes among others impressed upon subsequent generations of scholars and students that "Indianization," "Sinicization," and "Arabization" characterized the cultural expression of the region. Later scholars like Judith Jacob. Hla Pe. H. L. Shorto, M. C. Ricklefs, Manas Chitakasem, and others seriously questioned this classical-centric approach of essentializing the region as derivative of Indic and other civilizations. More recent trends in scholarship closely attend to Southeast Asian cultural expressions without seeking out their possible Sinic, Arabic, or Indic origins.

Southeast Asian history and society are now seen by many as an important place to study the impact of transnational flows of various global cultural, economic, and political ideologies. Still, rarely have scholars using these approaches seriously questioned why things change and specifically how they change. When reasons have been offered, they have commonly been linked to Marxist or Foucaultian analyses of power, liberation, and/or oppression--generalized explanations that are not sufficient to account for the diversity of changes or agents of change. While Miksic's introduction indicates a concern with confronting these problems, the format of a dictionary lends itself to seeing myths, queens, monuments, temples, manuscripts, and bas-reliefs as static objects. Many entries in this dictionary would better serve the student if they made a gesture towards treating how the entities in question have been adopted for revolutionary tactics or social control strategies by groups seeking to gain or clamoring to maintain power over time. Places like "Pattani" and "Angkor" have become "ideal kingdoms," which modern revolutionaries and politicians have used to exploit nostalgia in the service of nationalism. While Miksic does show how place names have changed in Southeast Asia, he rarely shows how different cultural and religious myths and memorials have been employed by different groups in times of political crisis. Perhaps this is too much to ask from a dictionary, but a note about this in the introduction would have been useful. Finally, the organization of the bibliography harkens back to the study of Southeast Asia through the nation state. While the dictionary terms often, quite correctly, cross national borders (indeed there were no "nations" before 1511), a genre- or theme-based bibliography might have helped to break down the "Thai Studies," "Philippine Studies," "Vietnam Studies" approach that has plagued the field for the past fifty years. The eighteen maps show these shifting boundaries and are a very useful addition.

The terms themselves are very judiciously chosen. This was certainly no easy task. There is a fine balance between "elite" personalities like Indravarman, Adityavarman. Balaputra, Hayam Wuruk, and Zhao Rukuo. and lesser-known poets and princes. Not only are well-known cities tike Bagan, Angkor, Melaka, and Vientiane defined, but less central, but historically important places like Solok, Julah, Chiang Rai, and Lambri as well. There are short, but excellent introductions to important texts like the Jinakalamalipakaranam (note that Miksic has simplified the numerous transliteration systems used for Southeast Asian languages, as well as Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Arabic, Mon, Khmer, etc., and has eliminated most diacritical marks). Ghatotkacasraya, Ying-Yai Sheng-Lan, and the Lalitavislara. One of the most notable aspects of the dictionary is his inclusion of important economic and agricultural centers like Takkola and Hai Duong (although not Mengla. Kengtung, Moulmein, or Hoi An), which were growing in the late fifteenth century.

Miksic's expertise as an archaeologist and art historian is evident throughout. His brief descriptions of Barabudur, Ta Phrom, Luang Phrabang, and Manuha are very useful. The reasons for his choice of broader area-wide terms, like Islam, Titles. Manuscripts, Trade, Literature, Silk are difficult to judge, as are his choices of generic literary, mythical, and artistic terms like Jataka, Hevajra, Stupa, and Durga. Why not equally pervasive genres and architectural features like Vinaya, Chao Fa, Vohara, and Votive Tablet? Of course, though comprehensiveness is always the goal of a dictionary, it can never be reached, especially in a place as linguistically and culturally diverse as Southeast Asia.

What has been included is much more impressive for island Southeast Asia--especially Indonesia--than mainland Southeast Asia (although it is surprisingly good for Vietnam, often overlooked by scholars of "Indic" Southeast Asia). The coverage of Laos, the Shan States region, and the southern Philippines is not good. Not only are major genres, inscriptions, and texts like Sin Xai, Xiang Miang, Mul Kacchai, Sujawanna. Ye Dharma, Xalong. not included, but important kings, monks, deities, rituals, and temples are overlooked. This lack is also reflected in the bibliography, in which Indonesia has sixteen pages and Laos only one. There are dozens of good sources for ancient Laos not mentioned. Coverage of Burma, especially the coastal kingdom Arakan. is also patchy. Many major early monasteries in Sukhothai. Nan. Phrae. Kampaengphet. Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Ratburi. Lopburi, Uthong, and Ayutthya are not mentioned. Furthermore, the descriptions of temples and kings often indicates only their artistic or political value, and not their economic or ritual importance and how that has shifted.

Still, these are relatively minor points. Overall this is an extremely useful, clear, and concise reference work. John Miksic has performed a great service for the held, and one hopes it will inspire future students to take up the study of ancient Southeast Asia.


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Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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