Special Seminar by Prof. Thanet Aphornsuvan on January 11

Title: Thinking through slavery in comparative perspective: A critical reading of Siamese & Thai history writing
Speaker: Prof. Thanet Aphornsuvan

Date and Time: January 11th (Thurs.), 2018 14:00 – 15:30
Venue: Tonan-tei (Room no. 201) on the 2nd floor of Inamori foundation memorial building.


The multiple and varied meanings of slavery in Thailand are evident in history writing from the 19th century on. For Siamese intellectuals of the late 19th and early 20th century, freedom was ‘born’ side by side with slavery. Modern narratives of history, especially those written by Crown Prince Vajiravudh and Prince Damrong maintained that Thailand was free and civilized. As history-writers, they made the case that the Thai state and people were always free even as the emancipation of slaves was touted as a high-point in Chulalongkorn’s enlightened rule. Prince Damrong focused on Sukhothai, the northern city-state in the thirteenth century, as the first Thai kingdom to exemplify righteous rule under the Buddhist king (dhamma-raja). Prince Damronng’s writing on Thai history and his interpretations of slavery and freedom in that history became revered and followed wholeheartedly by conservative throughout the 20th century. Nevertheless, this version of history also triggered critical revisionism from radical and left historians, especially those writing during the Cold War. This talk looks at the nature of slavery in Thailand’s history writing, offering examples from different historiographies across the 20th century; I draw attention to the confused and at times contradictory readings of slavery. Coming to this topic as a historian of slavery in the United States, I explore the repurcussions of these confusions, slippages, contructions for how contemporary Thailand sees these issues.

About the speaker:
Thanet Aphornsuvan was Distinguished Fellow and Professor at Pridi Banomyong International College, Thammasat University and Head of ASEAN Studies Program (2010-16) and Senior Research Scholar, Thailand Research Fund (TRF, 2013-16). He was former Director of the Southeast Asian Studies Program at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, (2004-07) Dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University (2007-10), and Board of Trustees, SEAREP (2006-12),. He holds a PhD from Binghamton University, USA.
He has been Visiting Researcher Scholar at various institutions such as the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University (1994), Cornell University (2003) and the Asia Research Institute at National University of Singapore (2004). He also has been Visiting Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University (1997) and the Southeast Asian Studies Program at University of California at Los Angeles (2003). Thanet has done research on the history of the US South, the history of Thai intellectual ideas and the history of Patani. His fields of interest are Thai intellectual history and comparative study of Asian intellectual history.