How do academic libraries decide which books to purchase? Today, the various library suppliers (Dawson, Yankee Book Trader, etc.) offer libraries a filtering service so that certain publishers and subjects can be tagged and – voila! - a more manageable list is offered.
This filtering has its limitations hence why, in the United States at least, most academic libraries refer to a monthly magazine published by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) for selecting and purchasing materials. Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries is considered the premier source for reviews of academic books, electronic media, and Internet resources of interest to those in higher education.
According to the ACRL, Choice reaches 22,000 librarians and an estimated 13,000 higher education faculty in almost every undergraduate college and university library in the United States, along with many larger public libraries, and special and governmental libraries. Reviews are published monthly in Choice magazine and ChoiceReviews.online. Choice publishes approximately 7,000 reviews per year in 50 sub-disciplines spanning the humanities, science and technology, and the social and behavioural sciences.
Seven thousand reviews sounds a lot but in fact few reviews in the field of (say) Asian Studies are published in any one year. As such, we were very pleased to hear last week that, in its March issue, Choice published a review of Robert Cribb’s Digital Atlas of Indonesian History.
Concluding that the atlas is ‘essential [for] all academic levels/libraries’, the review states:
This reference work, available as a DVD and, after registration, an actively maintained and searchable website, is a very welcome expansion of Robert Cribb’s earlier Historical Atlas of Indonesia …, which existed solely as a book. The new format is not only easier to carry around than the original atlas (and through the online option, accessible anytime from anywhere), but also enables quick, easily navigable access to maps for specific periods or topics through a clickable chapter option, with each chapter listing the relevant maps available as a clickable sidebar. Researchers therefore can very quickly call up the maps of greatest interest to them without needing to flip through an index or pages of print. Most usefully, maps pulled up can be printed out or saved as PDF or JPEG files. Researchers can be assured that, along with the atlas's user-friendly nature and regularly updated material on the Web version, the atlas continues to reflect Cribb’s deep knowledge of Indonesian history and politics, exemplified through the descriptive chapters that accompany the maps. While historians probably will benefit most from the DVD, political scientists and policy analysts will also find much of interest here, particularly in the maps and data that cover a range of topics for post-Suharto Indonesia, including elections and decentralisation. The one caveat is that the maps very much reflect the atlas's title and focus directly on Indonesian history. … Nevertheless, the atlas overall is an indispensable resource for almost anyone with an interest in Indonesia. Includes a well-written 70-page guide.
Thanks to Wikipedia for the background details on Choice.
Actually, four books have recently arrived at NIAS, each in their own way marvellous works. Three of them have already had some mention here before, namely:
- Modern China–Myanmar Relations by David I. Steinberg and Hongwei Fan (discussed in our last news item)
- The Authority of Influence by Jessica Harriden (discussed here – but we’ve a lengthy interview about to be published on YouTube so more about that later)
- Plaited Arts of the Borneo Rainforest edited by Bernard Sellato (also discussed here – it’s illustrations are so extraordinary we need to return to this one)
However, our fourth book – Development Professionals in Northern Thailand by Katharine McKinnon – has been somewhat overshadowed by the others, which is a pity given that it is an insightful analysis of the development ‘business’ by someone who grew up in that world. Today, Katharine McKinnon lectures on human geography at Macquarie University, Sydney, and is a former volunteer and development specialist. However, she spent much of her childhood in northern Thailand where decades of ‘development’ – promising higher incomes, better livelihoods, social justice and emancipation – have left hill communities with high rates of drug addiction and poverty, and a loss of traditional knowledge and values.
Drawing on her own experience, the author set out to consider what has gone wrong by studying professionals involved in NGO work. How, she asks, did the highlands come to be seen as needing development? And why did the presence of well-intentioned specialists leave behind so much apparent misery and hardship?
Dr McKinnon sought answers to these questions by undertaking an ethnographic study not so much of northern Thailand as of development work itself. The resulting study describes the everyday efforts and struggles of those who ‘do’ development – consultants, researchers, government officials, NGO workers and village partners. It takes a critical approach to post-development theory, argues that politics and ideology are an intrinsic part of development work, and is a ‘must-read’ for everyone involved or interested in development work, wherever that might be undertaken.
As usual, our recent attendance at the AAS annual meeting in Toronto allowed us to film interviews with a few authors. The first to go live on YouTube was with Professor David I. Steinberg of Georgetown University.
Here he discusses the evolving Sino-Burmese relationship as well as the strategic importance of Myanmar/Burma to China, the United States, India and other neighbouring countries. His monograph, Modern China–Myanmar Relations, co-authored with Hongwei Fan of Xiamen University, is currently being printed. The first copies should be available later this month but, while you are waiting, you might find the interview interesting.
Apologies for the film quality. Our usual movie camera died so all the Toronto interviews were filmed using an iPad (not that bad a quality but much heavier to hold and thus keep steady).
This year's annual meeting of the Association of Asian Studies has come and gone. The venue this time was a cloned American chain hotel in Toronto and probably in a year I won't remember much about the conference - except perhaps that most of the attendees were East Asian with a humanities focus on China, Japan or Korea (not exactly our list profile). Significantly, the organisers were not bragging about the attendance (probably down on last year to about 3,000 people).
That said, Jessica Harriden - whose new book is in press - was at the conference. It was a pleasure to meet her for the first time (a YouTube interview should be posted soon). Also with a new book on the way was another attendee: David Steinberg, wry, knowledgeable and full of stories (his YouTube interview is also coming). Old friends and favourite authors were also in abundance - you know who you are - and a number of interesting new book proposals were discussed. (As the commissioning editor of another press confided, however: lots of meetings but just how much results from it is another matter).
But outside the conference I had the pleasure of meeting the production editor and designer for Plaited Arts of the Borneo Rainforest (finally soon shipping to our UK warehouse). It was a pleasure meeting such a pair of keen and personable professionals.
For several weeks now, copies of a rather special old-new NIAS book have been available here in Europe (they are still on their way to other regions) but we haven’t even mentioned this.
Because our office copies hadn’t arrived – and in fact still haven’t arrived, despite being despatched from our UK warehouse on 29 January. And with the initial copies printed quickly sold out, we have just sat here looking perplexed.
Finally, a single copy – begged from the author to display at the AAS next week in Toronto – arrived today, and it looks wonderful. So, yes, it’s official: a complete reworking of Baas Terwiel’s 1975 classic study of rural Thai Buddhist society, Monks and Magic, has emerged into the world. It was, I feel, well worth the wait.
Despite its age, this has remained a widely cited text. Briefly, Monks and Magic is an absorbing study of how Buddhism was practised in the early 1970s in a rural community in central Thailand. The book spans the arc of a person’s lifetime, beginning with childhood and adolescence when esoteric spells and magical diagrams (including tattooing) are the main interest. Early adulthood sees many young men ordained as monks and making the first steps towards full ritual knowledge before returning to the secular world where marriage beckons along with everyday concerns like earning a living, raising children, etc. Life experiences and a mixture of good and bad karma accumulate. As death approaches, many men and women draw closer to the monastery and have a heightened concern for merit-making.
The original concept with our new NIAS Classics series, in which Monks and Magic is an inaugural volume, was to rejuvenate out-of-print classic works by digitising the original text and adding supplementary material that placed the work anew in the current scholarly discourse. But what happened here was that ambitions far exceeded the series concept. Yes, the text was scanned but it was then corrected, updated and reset – augmented with new text and illustrations – in what is effectively an utterly new book.
This can be seen here, for instance, in a description of how boys came to study and work in the monastery from an early age. In the original edition, the photos are grainy, the text quite ugly, the Thai transcribed differently than today and generally the book shows its age.
The new text and its layout have a very different, modern feel about them (there’s even Thai script in the text), and the photos are either new or old ones have been “Photoshopped” as much as possible to bring them up to an acceptable quality.
All in all, it was a mammoth job both for the author and the press. We hope our readers are happy with the final result.
Why, Benedict Anderson once asked, did Javanese become Indonesian in 1945 whereas the Vietnamese balked at becoming Indochinese? Perhaps the defining moment was on 17 June 1930 with the execution for rebellion of Nguyen Thai Hoc, one of the founders of the non-communist, fiercely anticolonialist VNQDD (Vietnamese Nationalist Party).
Stepping last onto the scaffold at daybreak, he defied the French in culturally powerful terms, when he bowed to the Vietnamese crowd and then screamed with a blood-chilling northern accent – Viet Nam van tue! [“Long live Viet-Nam!”] – shortly before being decapitated.
Even so, the word “Viet-Nam” remained largely unknown to the common folk while the ever-increasing integration of the territories of French Indochina meant that the union (or idea of a Greater Vietnam) began to shape the world-view of many elite Viet. Within two decades of Nguyen Thai Hoc’s execution, however, the idea and reality of Indochina was effectively dead.
This transformation is the focus of a classic study just published by NIAS Press. Here, Christopher Goscha shows that Vietnamese of all political colours (also Ho Chi Minh) came remarkably close to building a modern national identity based on the colonial model of Indochina while Lao and Cambodian nationalists rejected this precisely because it represented a Vietnamese entity. Specialists of French colonial, Vietnamese, Southeast Asia and nationalism studies will all find much of value in Goscha’s provocative rethinking of the relationship between colonialism and nationalism in Indochina.
First published in extended-essay form in 1995 as Vietnam or Indochina? Contesting Concepts of Space in Vietnamese Nationalism, this remarkable study has been through a major revision and is augmented with new material by the author and with a foreword by Eric Jennings (University of Toronto), who writes:
Goscha’s analysis extends far beyond semantics and space. His range of sources is dazzling. He draws from travel literature to high politics, maps, bureaucratic bulletins, almanacs, the press, nationalist and communist texts, history and geography manuals and guides, amongst others. … [T]his book remains highly relevant to students of nationalism, Southeast Asia, French colonialism, Vietnam, geographers and historians alike.
Copies of Going Indochinese: Contesting Concepts of Space and Place in French Indochina – the inaugural title in our new NIAS Classics series – are now available in Europe and soon will be delivered in other parts of the globe.
There is a widespread prejudice against edited volumes in the scholarly world, the idea being they are unedited conference papers with a cover slapped on. In a few cases this is true, the culprits often certain eminent academic presses. As a result, the mere mention of ‘edited volume’ can prompt many people and the majority of publishers to blindly reach for their nose.
But this judgement is unfair, the charge they are rough and raw is far from the truth for most edited volumes; many indeed are actually focused and subtle works. Moreover, often these volumes are the earliest channel for new scholars to bring fresh insights in their field to a wider readership.
Of course, it is especially irritating to bring together a group of scholars to write a focused collective work and then have this labelled a ‘conference volume’. As such, although it was gratifying that Lifestyle and Entertainment in Yangzhou, edited by Lucie Olivová and Vibeke Børdahl, was recently reviewed in the Journal of Asian Studies, we were less thrilled to see it called a ‘conference volume’.
Elsewhere, other edited volumes from NIAS Press were recently treated with greater respect – Saying the Unsayable, for instance, was judged ‘truly illuminating’ while a recent reviewer of Tai Lands and Thailand said the volume:
clearly succeeds in terms of identifying what’s at stake in the strategic manipulation of the meaning of community, by unpicking some of the reasons why advocates of community rights and empowerment became so disillusioned with the rural population’s electoral embrace of Thaksin Shinawatra that they more or less warmly welcomed the 2006 military coup which ousted his government - thus negating the voting rights of the country’s predominantly rural majority.
Apparently, the hot travel destinations this year are Uganda and Burma – at least according to Lonely Planet aficionados. If true, then sales of a recent NIAS Press book – listed as recommended reading in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Myanmar/Burma – might be about to explode (or maybe not, given its subject matter).
Let’s be honest, sales of Sean Turnell’s Fiery Dragons haven’t been breaking all records. This is no surprise. It may be a fascinating account of Burma’s financial system – of its banks, moneylenders and ‘microfinanciers’ – from colonial times to the present day and the reviews to date have been uniformly fulsome in their praise, but this is after all a book of greatest interest to economists and their ilk. Lonely Planet readers? Let’s see.
Mind you, someone impressed with the book is Aung San Suu Kyi, who met with the author in recent weeks. He was, she said, her ‘favourite economist’. In a note to me, Sean commented wryly, given the standing of the profession, that might not mean a lot!
Certainly, no matter if it is recommended by Lonely Planet or appreciated by Aung San Suu Kyi, the simple fact remains that Fiery Dragons is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the country and the rapidly changing situation it faces today.
We are sure that two new NIAS Press titles out soon – Modern China–Myanmar Relations by David I. Steinberg and Hongwei Fan and The Authority of Influence by Jessica Harriden (more about them later) – will add to this understanding in significant ways. Nonetheless, we remain aware that Fiery Dragons remains the gold standard against which all later works will have to be measured.
Sometimes when you get a compliment, the sun shines and you simply have to share the moment. Here is one such occasion. In reply to a New Year greeting sent recently to an old author, I received the following response:
Ten days ago I had dinner with someone who knows the publishing world well and whose opinion I respect a lot, and we discussed my publications strategy. That’s because I’m leaving [somewhere in Asia] in the year of the dragon, back to live in [Europe], with several books in my head.
Anyway, when I asked about NIAS, the comment was: “NIAS Press is the Rolls Royce of publishing in our field”. I thought that’s great, as there are other reasons too why I’d like to publish there.
That made my Sunday.
Mind you, there’s something wrong here. We may aim for Rolls Royce quality in our publications but our prices? That is another matter entirely. As noted in our news item from last week, we aim to make all of our books affordable.
In the lead-up to Taiwan’s presidential election last weekend, Jonathan Sullivan of the University of Nottingham wrote:
The China Quarterly recently asked me to review Mikael Mattlin’s book Politicized Society: The long shadow of Taiwan’s one-party legacy (2011, Copenhagen: NIAS). I’m glad they did, because it is terrific. I have excerpted the more relevant bits of the review below. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ll want to get hold of this book. It is highly recommended (and available as a relatively inexpensive paperback).
[I]n this carefully reasoned and strongly argued book (which avoids regressing into polemics despite the major thrust and substantive implications of its theories), Mikael Mattlin provides one of the most cogent arguments yet that many aspects of Taiwan’s democratic consolidation remain incomplete.
There is much, much more. Jonathan Sullivan’s full review will appear in The China Quarterly in the near future. Meantime, you can read much of his review in his blog posting on the subject.
- Feb. 29 2016
After a year of 48-hour days and frantic juggling, first copies of the printed volume of End of Empire: 100 Days in 1945 that Changed Asia and the World, edited by David P. Chandler, Robert Cribb and Li Narangoa, finally reached the NIAS Press office this morning.