The Limits to History

Public discussions around Rohingya people currently fleeing violence in Rakhine state, Myanmar, have often involved arguments about history. While critical historical analysis is useful in offering insights into conflicts, History—if treated as a single, knowable past—is not. This is especially true when dealing with ethnicity. Whatever the past was, no amount of historical research can…

Podcast

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by Luke Corbin for his “Myanmar Musings” podcast. We talked about some of my recent work on the history of animals, particularly elephants and cattle. Luke is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University researching the history and anthropology of beer in Myanmar. During his trip…

What’s the Difference?

I’ve recently been thinking about “difference”. While animal historians often write about the changing understandings of the difference between humans and animals over time, I don’t think that they have fully unpacked what they mean by “difference” itself. Was the difference between human and nonhuman animal species and same as the difference between colonizer and…

Traps and Tangles

Last week I attended a brilliant conference on the topic of “Traps” over at the Centre for Research into the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities in Cambridge. The purpose of the discussion was to consider the utility of thinking with traps to understand the technological mediations of human-animal relations, across different places and times. The…

Javanese Piggy-Banks

I’ve just come back from a holiday to Amsterdam, which was great. But even though I was not supposed to be working, I couldn’t stop myself from seeking out animal histories. Visiting the Rijksmuseum I learned about early-modern Indonesian piggy-banks, having stumbled across this one. It would probably have been used to store Chinese cooper…

Learning Burmese, Colonial Style

I have recently begun working my way through a book designed to teach English speakers written Burmese. But unlike the textbooks that I have previously used, this one is a little dated. It was published in 1894 and was written by Richard Fleming St. Andrew St. John, an English Orientalist, colonial official and translator of…

The Elephant in the Strike

The memoirs of British employees in the timber industry and the archives of British-owned timber firms both document  some small-scale and seemingly-spontaneous strikes that occurred in the Burmese jungle during the 1920s. Elephant drivers—called oozies in Burmese—refused to work unless their conditions and pay improved. But striking in a jungle timber camp was not an…

Popular Natureculture

As well as attending the History of Medicine in Southeast Asia Conference, whilst I was in Siem Reap I did a little sightseeing. I visited some of the temples around Angkor Wat, including Ta Prohm. Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, it is best known today for its cameo in the Tomb Raider film….

The Health of the History of Medicine in Southeast Asia

I’ve been lucky enough to squeeze in a short trip to Cambodia before the teaching term begins in earnest. I was attending the sixth History of Medicine in Southeast Asia (HOMSEA) conference, that this year was hosted in the tranquil surroundings of the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap. This was my first time…

Foucauldians for Corbyn

This week I taught my class introducing students to the work of Michel Foucault. As I do every year, in preparation I went back to some of his writings to refresh my memory and to re-engage myself with the ideas. Every time I do this, something different stands out. This time around, I was more…

Decolonising Democracy

This week Myanmar has held its most important election in a generation. For all of the flaws in the process, this is a huge moment in the country’s history, as well as in the lives of many Burmese people. It means a lot. My Facebook feed has been inundated with pictures of the inky fingers…

Race and Empire on the 13.24 Train from Cleethorpes

[Trigger Warning: Racism, Homophobia] “Go on, drink up. Don’t be a faggot.” A can of lager was pushed in front of me. The gesture was a demand. I was being told to demonstrate whether I should be included or not—to show them that I wasn’t queer, to show them I belonged. “No”, cut in the…