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Methods and Materials for South/Southeast Asian Studies: Area Studies

Introduction to methods, materials, and recent scholarship in the humanities and social sciences within South and Southeast Asian Studies.

Introductory Reading

What is Area Studies? Where/Why South and Southeast Asia?

Area Studies refers to a huge body of scholarship, primarily situated within or between the various fields that make up the humanities and social science, while being firmly situated within a particular geo-political region. While many sub-regions and alternatives exist, by in large these include Latin American, European, Russian and Eastern European, Middle Eastern, African and Asian Studies. In the case of Asian Studies, it is useful to consider South, Southeast, East, and Central Asia as separate research areas for most projects, because of the huge diversity in languages, religion, and histories embedded in the broad field of Asian Studies.

The European tradition of Area Studies scholarship began to be codified and organized into academic disciplines during the colonial period, during which European colonial governments sought to collect information about their colonized lands and peoples to assist with their government and, almost always, exploitation. In the United States, Area Studies scholarship emerges as a major field of academic inquiry after World War II and during the Cold War. Here again, scholarship on Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Soviet Union was given extensive government support so that such information could be utilized in the fight for influence, allies, and ideological control against the Soviet Union.

Today, however, Area Studies has, in many ways, shed its colonial origins. Contemporary Area Studies scholarship builds on important questions about a given region’s history, economy, environment, politics, society, culture, etc. Increasingly interdisciplinary, Area Studies scholars often make use of wide-reaching language and cultural skills as well as historical inquiry to investigate humanistic and social science phenomena from a holistic vantage point.

South and Southeast Asian Studies is a particularly vibrant and fraught zone of Area Studies. South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet*, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) and Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, East Timor, Brunei, and Indonesia), while certainly very different regions and usually handled as separate fields, also share much in common in terms of economics, history, religions, linguistics, visual culture, traditional political systems, and even ecology/environment/climate. Furthermore, it is increasingly common to combine these regions both in university departments and within library collections!

The readings include an essay on the present state of area studies as an academic discipline and two very short book recommendations to introduce you to the regions and some of the research topics that you might explore within South and Southeast Asian Studies.

Yale’s South and Southeast Asia Collections and the Councils

Check out my general LibGuides and play around a bit to get a sense of the collection and resources. You’ll be working with many of them much more in depth in the following modules, but good to start engaging with the materials now. Ask yourself, in what ways does Yale’s collections for these regions mirror the trends in scholarship you read about above? In what ways might it be different?  


              Also, get in touch with the Council for South Asian Studies or Council for Southeast Asian Studies for additional resources, courses, and language study.

Librarian for South and Southeast Asian Studies