Abstracts by Author

Lillian Handlin

Volume 21.1
Helping Against Lives' Uncertainties and the "Theravada" Label

A small shrine originally constructed in 1742 and  subsequently renovated in 1762,  in the village of Ma U,  was the meritorious deed of two members of one family, a wealthy widow, and later her son. Both  donors left relatively extensive statements explicating the significance of their merit making. The two inscriptions reveal generational differences, and how shifting historical circumstances informed their sense of self and the world around them.  The shrine testifying to their piety also includes in its programmatic décor a jataka of unknown provenance inscribed with the intriguing tag “ Theravada zat.” The article reads  the inscriptions in light of the wider world that was beginning to impinge upon royal subjects’ lives in the first years of the new Konbaung dynasty. The article also  examines the significance of recourse to a term that at the time had yet to become the label for a major religion.

Jessica Harriden

Volume 7
"Making a Name for Themselves: Karen Identity and the Politicization of Ethnicity in Burma" pp.84-144

The history of Karen nationalism has been interpreted in terms of inter-ethnic conflict and conceptualizations of ethnicity have influenced understanding of Karen political identity. While ‘Karen’ incorporated various linguistic, sociocultural, religious and political sub-groups, the Karen National Union (KNU) elite promoted a singular pan-Karen identity in order to minimize such diversity. As a result, factionalism emerged between different Karen groups, obstructing the KNU’s political vision and leaving many Karens dissatisfied with KNU attempts to represent their various interests. The fall of Manerplaw in 1995 was thus the result of intra-ethnic conflict as much as conflict between Karens and non-Karens.

Ryan Hartley

Volume 22.1
Japan’s Early Twentieth Century Entry into Burma and British Perceptions (and Misperceptions) of the Friend that Became a Foe, 1903-1943: A Case Study in the Global Blindspot

This article examines the beginning of the Japan-Burma relationship at the turn of the twentieth century. It questions why the British Empire welcomed Japan into Burma and allowed Japanese interests, economic and political, to build up their capacity to the point at which Japan would successfully confront Britain in Burma and Southeast Asia more broadly. In tackling this question, a two-part theoretical concept is utilized that couples an in-built weakness of the British Empire - referred to as the “global blindspot” - with a Japanese approach to foreign policy called here the yoraba taiju no kage [serve the powerful for your own good] strategy. Drawing on original qualitative and quantitative sources, the analysis is framed by how Japan was situated vis-à-vis Burma as first within, then later outside, of the British Empire. It proceeds in four stages - two within the empire and two outside of it - to demonstrate Japan’s step-by-step buildup of power in Burma was a process that Britain occasionally noticed, frequently ignored, and completely underestimated. It concludes that the British severely under-estimated Japan in Burma, and did not fully appreciate that Japan represented a different model of political-economy to the liberal free-trading state that Britain thought Japan was. Economic power, political power, and military power are all intertwined because power is power is power. The cost of this under-estimation cost Britain its position in Burma and ultimately its empire in Southeast Asia.

Patricia M. Herbert

Volume 9
"U Pe Maung Tin Bibliography" pp.130-176

From age 23 until his death at 84, U Pe Maung Tin was a prodigious writer and editor in both Burmese and English. He was the editor of the important Journal of the Burma Research Society. He wrote the first book on Burmese phonetics. With G.H. Luce, he edited Inscriptions of Burma and translated The Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma. This invaluable annotated bibliography lists these and more than 200 other works by U Pe Maung Tin, a dramatic illustration of the legacy of this important Burmese scholar.

John Hillman 

Volume 15
"Capitalism and the Development of Tin Industry in Burma"

Although Burma played an important role in the Asian tin industry during the era of mercantile capital, it faded into insignificance during the nineteenth century, the era of finance capital, but recovered in the first part of the twentieth as its deposits were exploited by western industrial capital. The first phase rested on the strategic location of Tenasserim astride the trade routes across the isthmus of Kra and outside the control of Western mercantile trading companies. However, that same location made it a site of the Burmese- Siamese wars which brought this era to end in devastation. Although the East India Company promoted exploitation of the mineral resources of Tenasserim following the first Anglo-Burma war, it was unable to establish the institutional infrastructure that allowed Chinese capitalists to finance the tin industry elsewhere. As tin prices rose in the twentieth century, British, South African and Australian capital reinvigorated the industry not only in Tenasserim but also in the Shan States. One of these ventures proved to be so profitable that became the basis of the first tin conglomerate to operate on a global basis. The new role for Burma is explored during the depression of the 1930s, both in the negotiations with the International Tin Committee which regulated the global industry and in the continued expansion of production. Although western capital remained dominant it rested on an uneven financial base, but it provided the framework which allowed small scale primitive workings by both Chinese and Burmese to flourish.

Marie Lall and Hla Hla Win

Volume 17.1
"Myanmar: The 2010 Elections and Political Participation"

This co-authored article examines how the concept of citizenship is linked to the changing nature of the nation state in the Myanmar context. The authors examine a debate within Myanmar regarding the nature of citizenship, as the country moved from being governed by a military dictatorship to a parliamentary system still heavily dominated by the military. The authors ask how this new situation will affect the Myanmar concept of citizenship. Citizenship is defined as an individuals relationship with the state, and people’s understanding of the attendant rights and responsibilities, including political participation in elections. Data assembled in Myanmar derived from focus groups of young people of Bamar and ethnic minority origins as well as in-depth interviews with civil society leaders. The investigation employed a mixed methods approach, the distribution of a questionnaire with qualitative and quantitative sections distributed at a private higher education institution in Yangon, and in villages in the Delta. Another set of data was collected in Yangon in February 2011. The authors conclude that the concept of citizenship in Myanmar is thin, and is identified largely with passports and identity cards. The elections allowed some form of political participation that proved attractive particularly to young people who expressed a range of opinions regarding the possibilities offered by the political process, and the country’s future. The authors conclude that the elections began a debate about the rights and duties of participating in the political process, but without being linked to the concept of citizenship. This indicates how much more is needed to be done to increase the political literacy of Myanmar’s young people, moving forward.

Thibaut d'Hubert

Volume 19.2
"The Lord of the Elephant: Interpreting the Islamicate Epigraphic, Numismatic, and Literary Material from the Mrauk U Period of Arakan (ca. 1430-1784)"

With this article, I propose to revisit a corpus of multilingual inscriptions on coins, as well as one Persian stone inscription, whose dates range from the fifteenth to the first half of the seventeenth centuries of the Mrauk U period of Arakan (ca. 1430−1784). My primary aim is to revise the readings of some of those inscriptions and, with these revisions in mind, to reassess the significance of such texts in light of recent scholarship on the Mrauk U period. Rather than derive conclusions based on anecdotal evidence of the existence of an Islamicate idiom in Arakan during this period, I observe the internal features of those inscriptions and possible readings that could be made of the message they contain. I also extend my analysis beyond coin inscriptions and trace the various forms of the Arakanese royal title “Lord of the Elephant” and its use as a generic epithet associated with political power in later (ca. 17th−18th CE) Bengali Muslim literature.

Bob Hudson 

Volume 15
"A Royal Collection of Bronze Model Boats and Soldiers from Eighteenth-Century Burma"

Bob Hudson, Win Maung (Tampawaddy), and Pamela Gutman

Volume 22.1
Buddha’s life in Konbaung period bronzes from Yazagyo

This article presents a collection of small bronzes retrieved from a cluster of ruined Buddhist structures at Yazagyo, in the Kabaw Valley, a remote area of Northwestern Burma. The items can be clearly dated to the early 1880s, near the end of the Konbaung dynasty, thus providing type specimens for chronological comparison. The bronzes recapitulate crucial chapters in Prince Siddhartha's and then the Buddha Gotama's life, and they are examined by the article's three authors. The article details the relics’ enshrinement, their dating, historical context, and the stories of the Buddha that they animate. The article includes 22 photographs. 

Andrew Huxley

Volume 1
"The Importance of the Dhammathats" pp.1-17

Burma's dhammathats are pre-colonial compilations of legal and ethical material. They provide vivid insights into the details of everyday village life and into the process by which Burmese authors adapted Pali texts from India to their own purposes. They appear to be at least as old as any other surviving Burmese literature and contain valuable lessons for contemporary Burma. This article hopes to rescue them from their unjust neglect.

Volume 13 
"Three Nineteenth-Century Law Book Lists: Burmese Legal History from the Inside"

Through the investigation of three Burmese law book lists by Maungdaung Sayadaw, Tha Dwe, and Kyaw Htun this article seeks to construct a narrative history of legal traditions. By breaking each list into smaller units and comparing the results a common core of Burmese legal history emerges. The lists, shed light on who the typical authors of a dhammathat were while items that appear on some, but not all, of the lists help indicate controversies that were still matters of live debate during the nineteenth century.

Volume 19.2
“Two Law Book Lists from Arakan”

The legal history of Arakan has not yet been written. We have a few surviving dhammathat texts, but no reliable information as to when they were first written or last copied. Were the surviving texts written before the conquest of Arakan? Can we treat them as evidence for tradition as it was under the Arakanese kings? The two 1870s lists discussed herein bring us closer to answering these questions.