This autumn I get to teach one of my favorite survey courses at UCRiverside, a survey of early history in Southeast Asia. As a specialist on the twentieth century, the ancient past here offers me a return to the kinds of vacation-in-the-past adventures that sparked my childhood interests in studying history that led me here.
I know that as a professional historian I should frown upon the romantic fascination with ruins or at least throw in a footnote. But I nevertheless remain captivated by sites like this, a purposefully-left, crumbling temple at Angkor Wat. These places, their multi-layered, material histories and even the ways they figure into the politics of the present fascinate me.
During my research in the Mekong Delta as a graduate student, I had the good fortune to visit Dr. Pierre-Yves Manguin‘s archeological dig at Oc Eo, a site important to an ancient kingdom of waterways and a city of warehouses built on wooden pilings known widely as “Funan”. Dr. Manguin’s research includes topics in my dream list of projects, the History of Boats in Island SE Asia.
Through Pierre-Yves and a fantastic staff of archeologists and ceramacists affiliated with the French School of the Far East (EFEO), I was able to witness not only a fascinating excavation of ancient baths and a newly excavated pilgrimage site but also the scholarly diplomacy of a French organization working closely with Vietnamese institutions, scholars and agencies.
I hope I can bring some of this escapist fascination with Southeast Asia’s ancient past to the enthusiastic young students at Riverside this fall. The materials are all nestled within our campus platforms, but I share my syllabus here.