SOUTHEAST ASIA: A CROSS-ROADS OF CIVILIZATIONS

COURSE B – Tuesday 1-3 p.m.

Lecturer: Dr. Arne Kislenko
Tartu College, 310 Bloor St. West, entrance on Madison

At various stages in history Southeast Asia has been a cultural crossroads, a colonial construction, a Cold War battleground, an economic miracle, and a hotbed of Islamic extremism. As the intersection between ancient Indic and Sinitic civilizations, the region was impacted by many different cultural, ethnic, and religious influences. But far from being a mere “borderlands”,
Southeast Asia witnessed the rise of several unique, very important civilizations with long-lasting global effect. It has endured violent conflicts borne of decolonization, nationalism, ethnic tensions, ideological extremes, and great power contestation. In fact, revolutions and wars in Southeast Asia, particularly in Vietnam, were pivotal in shaping the modern
international geo-political order: consuming not just the region, but also global powers like China and the United States. Out of the ashes of such conflict came dramatic social, political, and economic change, leading to the rise of a regional bloc with great importance to the international order today. This series will deal with the many myths and realities of Southeast Asia and the ways in which the region has developed since ancient times to the present. We will explore the diverse historical experiences of some major countries and societies in the region, as well as more contemporary issues like separatist movements, religious revival, economic globalization, tourism, environmental degradation, and the continuing political instability of some states.
September 10 – Cradle of Civilizations: Southeast Asia as an Ancient World
Magnificent palaces, spiral temples, and elephant armies: some of the many images conjured up by travelers to ancient places like Angkor Wat, Sukhothai, and Yogyakarta. As the southern terminus of the famous “Silk Road”, Southeast Asia was in ancient times a vibrant crossroads of multiple cultural influences. Tracing the enormous impact of both Indian and Chinese civilizations on the region, this session will also explore the development of unique Southeast Asian societies, such as the Pagan, Khmer, and Tai: kingdoms that shaped not only the regional political order of their times, but also the global development of major religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.
September 17 – European Imperialism and a “Region” Defined: Southeast Asia to 1914
The first Europeans arrived in Southeast Asia in the early 1500s, ushering in more than four centuries of foreign imperial rule. The Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, French, and British, all left their mark, as did, ultimately, Japan, the United States, and China. These divergent influences fundamentally reshaped the region, bringing with them different worldviews, not to mention the economic and political rivalries of “Great Power” conflict.
September 24 – Southeast Asia and the Two World Wars
During the Great War, colonial subjects served empires with goods and soldiers. During the Second World War, the region endured Japanese domination and was a major theatre of military operations. Moreover, the wars produced much ideological and political change, ultimately shaping Southeast Asian societies in many ways.
October 29 – Triumph and Tragedy: Southeast Asia and the Cold War, Part 1
The decline of European influence in Southeast Asia led to a new balance of power in the region, chiefly premised on the emerging “Cold War” divide between the United States and the Soviet Union. This session will introduce some of the many post-colonial struggles in the area, as well as the interplay of global powers. Particular focus will be on the First Indochinese War (1946-1953) which set the agenda for much of the region over the next two decades.
November 5 – Triumph and Tragedy: Southeast Asia and the Cold War, Part 2
The Second Indochinese War, known to Americans as Vietnam War, had enormous impact on the global order. For the United States it represented a national trauma, played out against the backdrop of civil rights and other dramatic social and political changes of the 1960s. For Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodians, the American war brought almost unimaginable suffering, and decades more struggle. The rest of Southeast Asia was also consumed by the conflict, indelibly changed by the massive American military presence and its commitment to contain the spread of communism.
November 19 – After Vietnam: Chaos and Survival in Southeast Asia, 1975-2000
When U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam in 1975, they left a massive political void in the region. Communism seemed unstoppable: quickly and brutally consuming Indochina. The American defeat ushered in yet another era of unprecedented turmoil for the region, not least of which was genocide and yet another war with a global power. Yet amidst the chaos, stability and even progress emerged. By the end of the century, some countries in the region had become economic “dragons”: buoyed by both tremendous innovation and the intricacies of the international order.
November 26 – Into the Millennium: Southeast Asia and the New Global Order
The new millennium dawned on Southeast Asia with many important changes, particularly in terms of economic development and a new “strategic pivot” towards China. However, many of the “old ghosts” of the region still haunted. This session will look at a variety of critical political, economic, and social developments in Southeast Asia in the first nearly two
decades of the 21st century, with particular focus on the remarkable transitions made in the region after such devastating conflicts over the preceding 50 years.
December 3 – Southeast Asia Today and Tomorrow
In many ways, contemporary Southeast Asia has come “full-circle” from its ancient past. It remains a major nexus of global trade and geopolitical rivalries, now in the throes of rapid modernization and fundamental political change. But in some respects, old problems remain major obstacles. Nationalisms are on the rise. Authoritarianism is making a frightening comeback. Separatisms and extremisms remain in many countries. This session will look at contemporary issues and developments, with attention to the myriad effects of global economic integration and the clash between modernity and traditional culture and politics.

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