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Burma-Myanma(r) Research
and its Future

Implications for Scholars and Policymakers,
Sat 21-Wed 25 September 2002,
Gothenburg, Sweden

1st Collaborative International Conference of the Burma Studies Group (BSG) in conjunction with the Centre for Asian Studies (CEAS), Gothenburg University. Sponsoredby: Gothenburg University (Faculty of Social Science and Vice-Chancellor's Office), International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), South East Asia committee of the Association of Asian Studies (AAS), the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the Nordic Academy for Advanced Studies (NorFA - Nordisk Forskerutdanningsakademi) and the Centre of East and Southeast Asian Studies, Lund University.

panels and speakers
full papers
travel to and in Gothenburg


This conference has now succesfully concluded. Currently options for publication of a number of panel papers are under consideration.

Conference reviews are appearing in the IIAS Newsletter, Bulletin of the Burma Studies Group, Australian Asian Studies Newsletter, NIAS Newsletter, Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the UK (ASEAUK), and in the Newsletter of the Asian Studies Association of Australia.

If you are interested in the future of this conference, please do come to discuss it at the BSG Meeting at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, New York, 27-30 March, 2003.


download conference SCHEDULE
(ver 020911 Word 57K)

15 July 2002

Preparations for the upcoming Burma-Myanmar Studies Conference started in March 2001, with neither funding nor the usual venue. After a year of planning, and thanks to the support from Gothenburg University, the conference is now scheduled to take place at the heart of Gothenburg University -- indeed, right in its very ‘ritual’ centre. Moreover, Gothenburg city supports this conference with a planned buffet reception at the City Hall at the invitation of the Mayor for Tuesday 24th. (More about this in August.)

This is an open academic conference. We welcome all interested in Burma-Myanmar studies, irrespective of academic specialty, and without favouritism or prejudice. Participants are permitted to specify their own level of confidentiality for their presentation and circulation of papers.

Our preliminary schedule includes approximately 140 presentations planned across the (A), (B) and (C) panels ranging across a much wider variety of topics than is usual at conferences in the past. This time we include, for example, apart from the old favourite subjects, also education and research, HIV and health, and water and sustainable development. We hope that bringing on board new areas of study and forging new relationships across more disciplines might just provide fertile ground for new ideas for everyone.

Another very important way of fertilizing Burmese studies is to augment the prevalent nation-centric approaches. Historically, Burmese studies have been particularly strong in Britain, Japan, the USA, China, Russia and France. Each offers us very interesting, but also partial views. So far, no conference has attempted to bring these traditions of scholarship together. Of course, language is always a barrier, but it can be overcome. I believe we must internationalise if we are to come to a full understanding of the region. This conference may be in Europe, and it may have originated with the Burma Studies Group. but it is by no means limited to European or American participants, and promises to be a truly international event. Participants are planning to come from all over the world, including also leading Burma studies scholars from China, Japan, Russia, India, Southeast Asia and New-Zealand/Australia. Significantly, almost one-third of the presenters are Burmese and two-thirds of the panels have Burmese co-organizers. Over half the panels are co-organized by Asian participants. Furthermore, we would like to integrate the event in with the local venue, by drawing in staff from various relevant Gothenburg University departments as chairs wherever possible.

Now is a moment to take stock of what has been achieved over the last half century of Burma studies, and to contemplate new horizons. By opening up across national boundaries and across generations of scholars, we can create the new spaces and new networks that will hopefully sustain a more comprehensive way of understanding in the future.

The Funding
We are working with very limited means. Certainly, cost is always a factor, and scholars engaged in Burmese studies represent a particularly badly endowed constituency, mostly very young scholars, retired academics or amateur enthusiasts. Unlike Thai studies for example, commercial sponsorship is simply not an option and there are comparatively few well-paid senior academics in this field. What to do?

Initial funding was very helpfully pledged by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS). This got the ball rolling. Then, in particular through the help of the Centre for Asian Studies, Gothenburg, we raised new funds for this conference from several Nordic academic bodies and universities, including Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Nordic Academy for Advanced Studies (NorFA - Nordisk Forskerutdanningsakademi), the Nordic Institute for Asian Studies (NIAS), Lund University and Gothenburg University. The Burma Studies Group of the Association of Asian Studies also generously supports this conference, indeed, initiated it.

The amounts raised are comparatively small, but extremely significant for Burmese studies, where a little can and does go a long way. The funds raised are being pledged to help bring over approximately 30 or so unwaged or extremely low income participants from many countries, mostly young students (many Burmese), but also some retired scholars with no funding. Without this subsidy, this conference simply could not see the light of day.

How will we promote Burmese studies across the spectrum?
This event constitutes an excellent basis to raise the international profile of Burmese studies, and to help launch new initiatives. It is up to all of us now to breathe life into this event. Whilst the preliminary panel listing has now been worked out, the programme itself has not yet been finalised. So we are still very much open to your ideas and proposals. What further initiatives might we take up during the conference and beyond? What would you LIKE us to do? Please come back in the weeks ahead with ideas. In particular let us imagine how to foster closer relationships with our Burmese colleagues, both inside and outside the country. I should hope that every individual contributor to the conference can, apart from taking on academic initiatives, also involve themselves in at least one humanitarian cause, whether this be in the field of helping improve education and health, or to raise funding for projects that will improve the lives of the Burmese peoples inside and outside the country.

You should have received the registration details for the conference. If you have not, let me know and I will send them to you in full. These details will shortly be available on the web in full with exception of the confidential hotel booking codes. If you know of anyone who specialises in or has a genuine interest in the country, but who has not heard of this conference yet, or is not currently on the distribution list, let me know and I will add them.

We hope this opportunity for all to meet in a mutually supportive and constructive environment is taken up by all interested in this field of studies. I much look forward to our meeting. The conference is there to serve you, and the conference organisers are at your disposal. Do engage us with your criticism and ideas. You can email any of the organizers or myself your suggestions or criticisms at the email address below.

Gustaaf Houtman
Chair, Burma-Myanmar Studies Conference 2002

To see the full list of panels click below:
List of panels and speakers


With few available outlets for new scholarship on Burma since the country reopened after a long period of closure, there has been little opportunity for a new generation of scholars to present their findings. Scholarship by Burmese-Myanma(r) nationals has also been underrepresented internationally. In light of these problems, the conference aims in particular:

(1) to bring attention to recent scholarship on Burma-Myanma(r), especially that of younger academics and of Burmese/Myanmar scholars;

(2) foster wherever possible constructive dialogue among scholars from Burma-Myanmar and the international community;

(3) to establish fresh comparative perspectives with other countries in transition, including ASEAN and Eastern Europe;

(4) to strive to publish the proceedings from the conference.

Though first and foremost an academic conference, proposals are also entertained for creating opportunities:

(1) to present policy papers;

(2) to enable funding agencies and NGOs to meet suitably qualified academics; and

(3) to establish a more enduring international structure that permits co-ordination of regular international academic exchanges on Burma-Myanmar, including the production of a database, an international directory of contacts, the organization of international conferences and the international co-ordination of publishing ventures.

Background to the conference

The best-known recurring conferences are: (1) the annual Yangon University Historical Research Centre conference, (2) the annual roundtable discussion held by the Burma Studies Group at the American Association for Asian Studies conference in the US, and (3) the biennial Burma Studies Group conference held at the Burma Studies Centre at Northern Illinois University, Dekalb. Aside from these, the last major one-off open international academic conference took place in Berlin in April 1993 at which 33 papers were delivered (including nine in absentia).

These conferences, and the publications they have yielded, are extremely valuable. However, there exists a need to bring together the increasing number of specialists scattered around the world, much as the Thai Studies Conference does in diverse locations every three years. Given the increased scholarly attention to Burma-Myanmar over the past twenty years, this is an opportune moment to start pooling academic expertise and bring fresh academic perspectives to the study of Burma-Myanmar.


This conference was initiated by the Burma Studies Group (BSG), a constituent of the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) at the 2001 annual AAS meeting. Gustaaf Houtman, Ward Keeler and May Kyi Win were all three elected as conference organizers by the BSG membership at this meeting. After May Kyi Win deceased, Khin Ni Ni Thein was co-opted with permission from the Burma Studies Foundation Trustees (who substantially overlap with the BSG membership). The conference plans of holding the event at Gothenburg University were fully endorsed by the BSG membership at its 2002 annual AAS meeting. The AAS South East Asia committee awarded the conference a subsidy to help BSG unwaged and low-waged participants to come over from the States. The initiative of enhancing international participation at this conference was commended.

However, as presently constituted, the 2002 conference is an experiment, a one-time event to gauge the possibilities and practicality of holding occasional conferences away from the institution that has hosted the biennial conference regularly since the late 1980s, that is Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. There, the CENTER FOR BURMA STUDIES, with access to an excellent library, to fine Burmese language teaching resources, with its museum and other facilities has been a cynosure of scholarship on Burma. Recently, a new director ---- has taken over from the retiring Richard Cooler and there is every reason to think that she will make a special effort to follow up this first foray abroad with efforts to engage the international Burma studies community.

Naturally, it will take considerable discussion and careful planning to assure that the conference continue to be a venue for international interest on Burma. To do this, the international community is invited to participate with the Burma Studies Group in planning for such a future. BSG members have already voiced enthusiasm for the principle of shifting the venue of the conference so as to increase participation of scholars from different regions of the world. It is hoped that participants will have a chance to discuss these and other pertinent issues at the several 'open' business meetings that will take place in the course of the conference.

As is normal practice, the current conference organizers resign on the last day of the conference, and the BSG (both at the conference and at the later meeting at the AAS in the spring) will be inviting - nay pleading - for others to step up and assist. The coming year will also be a time for reflecting on past successes and considering future directions. Should an international honorary board of senior scholars in Burmese studies (on the model of Thai Studies) be appointed, and should there by an election of a new executive and local organizer board elected at every conference, for example? How can we ensure that the needs and concerns of the various constituencies of the conference - the BSG, the Center for Burma Studies and the 'international community of scholars' be satisfied? It is hoped that such questions can at least be broached at the conference.


The conference venue is the Gothenburg University Main Building, the heart of the University.

Address: The University Main Building, Vasaparken 2, Gothenburg SE 405 30, tel. +46 31-773 1000 (main switchboard).

The University Main Building is within easy reach of the Central station. Take tram No. 1, 3, 7, or 10 and alight at ‘Vasaplatsen’.

For maps of the immediate environs of the conference venue see:

http://gu.se/karta/Centr.html  (basic university map)

For a more detailed map of the conference venue in the context of Gothenburg as a whole enter “Vasaparken 2” in the address, and “Gothenburg” in city at: http://www.maporama.com/

The conference venue includes a cosy arrangement across three rooms: (1) a 440 seater split level old hall, (2) a 100-110 seat modern facility, and (3) a 40-60 seat room. You can use computer power point slides only in (2). The others will have transparency

Venue and accommodation

Most events will take place at the heart of the University, namely at Vasaparken, Gothenburg SE 405 30. For maps of the immediate environs see:

http://gu.se/karta/Centr.html (basic university map)


Burma Studies Conference 2002
Elected Organizing Committee

(new conference organizers to be elected at the next annual BSG meeting
at the 2003 AAS conference, New York, 27-30 March, http://www.aasianst.org/annmtg.htm)

(posthumously - see tribute)
Daw May Kyi Win, Dip. Lib. Univ. Rangoon

Associate Professor of University Libraries
Curator Donn V. Hart Southeast Asia Collection
Editor Newsletter of the Burma Studies Group
Northern Illinois University Library

Gustaaf Houtman PhD (Chair)
Royal Anthropological Institute
50 Fitzroy Street,
London W1T 5BT,
United Kingdom
at@therai.org.uk (email contact preferred)
home telephone +44 (0)20 7394 6927,
home fax +44 (0)20 7394 8392

Rm 337, Centre for Asian Studies
Box 700, SE 405, 30 Gothenburg, SWEDEN
tel.: +46-(0)31 7732653 (direct)
fax: +46 (0)31-773 2505

Ward Keeler PhD
Associate Professor,
Anthropology of Indonesia & Burma
University of Texas at Austin 78712-1086
tel.: +1 512 471 8520
fax: +1 512 471 6535

Local Organizers:

Dr Wil Burghoorn
Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies (CEAS)
Brogatan 4
Box 700
SE 405 30 Gothenburg

tel.: +46 31 773 2649
fax: +46 31 773 2505


The Burma Studies Centre is a very valuable resource with an excellent library, excellent Burmese language teaching resources, a museum and many other resources. There is every reason to think that the new director will make a special effort to engage the international Burma studies community, and that her initiatives will draw more international participation into the Burma Studies Centre. There is a subscription to the Journal of Burma Studies, and the Bulletin of the Burma Studies Group they publish. We were unable to prepare a full special membership package for the conference to the Burma Studies Center. However, to become a member please go to http://www.grad.niu.edu/burma.


I recommend anyone serious about Burmese studies to join Michael Charney’s useful Burma elist (www.seastudies.org/bure.htm), email mcharney@aol.com .


To get the most out of this conference, there is a need for serious discussion among organizers and discussants. A discussion group dedicated to this purpose has been set up.

Group name:  BurmaStudiesConference2002
Group home page:  http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BurmaStudiesConference2002
Group email:  BurmaStudiesConference2002@yahoogroups.com

Pending decisions made by its constituents, I propose that initially it is limited to the conference organizers and panel organizers and that it should be moderated. Once confidence develops and initiatives have direction, we can broaden it out later to include discussion panel speakers and speakers on the panels?