You might not expect to see a mangosteen and a martlet in such close proximity, one being a tropical fruit native to Southeast Asia and the other being a heraldic bird native to the crest of Worcester College Oxford (whose Community, Equality and Decolonisation effort provided the initial impetus for this project). 

Your surprise would not be unwarranted considering the need for greater diversity within Oxford’s syllabus. As two undergraduates here, we can attest that there is a sad lack of opportunities to properly study Southeast Asia on an undergraduate level, in our degrees (History/Politics) and others. This page is dedicated to interesting things about Southeast Asia that have been neglected, that students would not have encountered otherwise during their time here at university. 

Southeast Asia reveals the way in which colonialism can shape nations in a multitude of ways – the places within it have been dominated and subjugated to the will of a variety of foreign powers over centuries. Yet the story of Southeast Asia is not simply one of subjugation. It is one of exchange of goods, ideas and culture going both ways. The result is a remarkably diverse region that has shown receptivity to foreign influence as well as resistance. 

Today Southeast Asia consists of eleven countries: Brunei, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Timor Leste, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Each country has a distinctive history and culture that we hope to bring more light to, while also paying attention to the links between the regions that show the vitality of exchange and connectivity. The extent of shared cultures in itself reveals something about modern notions of nations and how histories of Southeast Asia have been formed from such a perspective. 

Image from Geographic Guide

Our original plans were to host a week-long physical society & culture exhibition alongside talks about culture and decolonisation. Due to the current pandemic, we’ve brought this all online. The good news is that this means this project can carry on for much longer – so do follow us for more!

Note: we would like to express our full support of other movements being made to diversify and directly decolonise the syllabus and wider academic landscape of the UK. Do get involved and support these efforts, some of which we’ve listed below!

runnymedetrust.org/ – UK’s leading race equality think tank

theblackcurriculum.com/ – a social enterprise promoting Black History education

tideproject.uk/ – a research project about mobility, travel and identity in the UK

museumofcolour.org.uk/ – an online exhibition about artists of colour in British history

rota.org.uk/ – a think tank that addresses issues that affect BAME communities and strengthens BAME voices

projectechoes.eu/ – a project looking at how empires have shaped Europe and looking to combat official narratives that overlook this

Best, Catherine and Sophie

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