Connections, Contact, and Community in the Southeast Asian Past: Teaching Transnational History Through Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace
As a new transnational agenda in Asian studies continues to produce research that destabilizes intellectual, spatial, and political boundaries, efforts to teach “the region” or country-based histories have become increasingly more difficult to sustain. For Southeast Asianists, this shift in perspective is nothing new. Most textbooks covering Southeast Asian history before 1830 demonstrate the region’s inter-Asian connectedness. However, maintaining this transnational sensitivity becomes less certain when teaching post-1830 content, when Westphalian boundaries begin to frame how Southeast Asian experiences are written and taught. Although scholarship has already begun to rescue these histories from colonial and national framings, finding effective ways to bridge pre-colonial histories with colonial/postcolonial experiences remains a challenge for scholars teaching in Southeast Asia, where projects designed to affirm the nation and the region are still very much a work in progress. The use of Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace has been particularly effective in the effort to teach a Southeast Asian history that addresses these broader intellectual concerns.