Press news

Almost perfect
from Press News, posted 09/28/2011 - 12:09

 NIAS Press has been visible at a number of conferences since the giant ICAS–AAS conference in Honolulu just before Easter. Most significant was the annual meeting of ASEASUK (the Association of South-East Asian Studies in the United Kingdom), held in perfect autumn weather at Magdalene College in Cambridge earlier this month.

At the conference, NIAS Press hosted a book exhibition by 18 different presses publishing in Asian studies. This was a huge hassle to organise beforehand (like trying to herd cats into water, as my old colleague Marie Lenstrup would say) but the whole thing went off well. Conference-goers were happy with the vastly expanded selection of books about Southeast Asia on display (and certainly we were not unhappy with the sales either).

As always, this premier Southeast Asian studies conference in Europe for 2011 allowed us not only to present our books but also meet up with old friends and new. Different book ideas were floated; some may materialise as books at a future date.

Terry King and Annabel Vallard

Such is the conference life of academic publishers – future hope but (ideally) cool cash in the pocket right now.

During quiet moments at ASEASUK, we also planned to film interviews with five of our authors, these to be added to our ‘YouTube collection’ (like this one filmed at the AAS earlier this year). Unfortunately, in all cases, mysteriously the interviews fell through – delayed but not forgotten (a hint to each and all of you).


Reviews of the future?
from Press News, posted 09/26/2011 - 11:50

In case you haven’t noticed, Amazon is steadily taking over the publishing world (not alone, mind you – a three-way carve up with Google and Apple could well happen). As a small academic press, we can get nervous about this. At the same time, however, in all sorts of small ways Amazon is a force for positive change – like, for example, in the case of book reviews.

Generally, academic journals do take their time to publish a book review – a year is not unusual. Increasingly, then, readers are making use of alternative advice, not least in the reviews posted on

For instance, no review of Cambodians and Their Doctors has yet been published in an academic journal. But the following review on Amazon – titled ‘An excellent resource for newcomers to the Cambodian Health System’ – appeared in July:

This extensive, fully referenced work provides an authoritative account of the history of the health care system in Cambodia from the French Indo-China period through independence, the ravages of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot and the post KR recovery. It describes and explains the present situation in the country including doctors, nurses, midwives and traditional healers. Packed with information, it is easier to use as a reference work or for reading relevant chapters rather than as a narrative to be followed chronologically in detail. The cost reflects the fact that it is an academic work but is fully justified by the quality and upto date nature of the material it contains. I would recommend it to any serious professional who wishes to understand the basis on which the present health care system is founded with its inherent flaws, limitations and corruption. Could be a good investment.

As you can see, the book was rated four stars out of a possible five.

With fewer academic journals publishing reviews than before, could this be the shape of the future?


Bread, cheese and bloody conflict
from Press News, posted 09/13/2011 - 15:03
Sadly, there were no real Vietnamese nêm on the table to celebrate the arrival of the first advance copy of Chris Goscha’s Historical Dictionary of the Indochina War at NIAS yesterday. Instead, we made do with French cheese and Danish bread (quite superior to le pain français).
This is a massive work, as perhaps can be seen in the photo and the screen shot of a double-page spread below.
Not for nothing, then, has Fredrik Logevall of Cornell University called it:
A magnificent achievement. No one has ever attempted this kind of comprehensive reference work on the First Indochina War; Christopher Goscha not only attempts it but succeeds marvelously. More than a dictionary, this volume is a major addition to the literature, an essential resource for all students of the struggle, produced by a leading historian working at the top of his powers.
The ANU’s David Marr agrees. It is, he enthuses, ‘a milestone in the field, which will be consulted for decades’. A key element here is its international scope:
This is the first historical dictionary about Vietnam in any language to mine French and Vietnamese sources in equal measure. It ranges beyond Vietnamese and French participants to provide equally incisive entries on British, Chinese, Lao, Cambodian, American and Soviet actors in a war that took on important international dimensions. The prodigious amount of research that Goscha has put into this dictionary ensures its longevity.
David added privately that NIAS Press is to be congratulated for taking on this major project. Yes, it is a major work that was an equally major undertaking for a smaller press like NIAS. But it was also our privilege to be involved in bringing such a significant work to fruition; we would do it again.


Worth more than 1,000 words
from Press News, posted 08/22/2011 - 09:16

 Strange how a duck can get in the way of scholarly communication, sad when it blocks a message that is valuable.

Given Robert Cribb’s long involvement with map-making – and his success in demonstrating that serious scholarly works can be enriched by high-quality maps – we thought it would be interesting to hear his thoughts and experience on the subject. To this purpose, we first interviewed him in December 2009, shortly before his Digital Atlas of Indonesian History was finished.

Unfortunately, at this point a duck entered the picture - specifically, my duck, a wooden head on which I put my reading glasses at home when not in use. (This was where we filmed the interview.) Robert is squeezed into the left edge of the picture, the duck watches us implacably on the right.

After previewing the first clip from the interview, both Robert and I agreed we would re-film it. It was not until March this year, however, just before the ICAS/AAS conference in Honolulu, that we managed to do this. The results (with links to the actual clips on YouTube) are now posted on the Digital Atlas website.

There are 14 short film clips in total grouped under three topics:

The Cartographer

1) First encounters with map-making

2) How cartography has changed in recent years

3) The case for digital cartography

4) Challenges as a map-maker

5) Can a cartographer also be an historian?

The Case for Maps

6) What maps offer

7) Do maps depict reality or create new realities?

On Map-Making

8) What you need to begin making maps

9) Why CorelDraw or Illustrator is preferable for map-making

10) Copyright issues in map-making

11) Dealing with uncertain borders in map-making

12) Map projections and their political implications

13) The place of geographic information systems in map-making

14) Reference works on map-making

This is an interesting interview, one that we recommend to anyone who writes and publishes. And – because not everything was covered properly in the second interview that was filmed in the first – the duck even gets a look in (right from the start).

Beyond this interview is the Digital Atlas itself. To enjoy its maps in all their glory (and to print, download them, etc.) you need first to login. If you would like a brief visit there, send me a mail (to gerald[at] and I’ll issue you a temporary visitor’s pass.


How book launches should be
from Press News, posted 08/05/2011 - 17:08

 The Arab Spring sweeping North Africa and the Middle East has commanded much media attention. However, elsewhere in the Islamic world can be found numerous civil society organisations, movements and reform-minded professionals working towards a more democratic, less corrupt and brighter future. Not least recently we have seen the launch of the global protest movement, Bersih (meaning ‘clean’ in Malay), calling for electoral reform in Malaysia.

Against this background and just days earlier than the mass arrest in KL of ‘Bersih 2.0’ demonstrators, Gerhard Hoffstaedter’s book Modern Muslim Identities: Negotiating Religion and Ethnicity in Malaysia was launched at the latest conference of the Australian Anthropological Society, held in Perth.

Although the two events were not linked, much that Gerhard describes in his study is highly pertinent to current events in Malaysia. The book explains why so few reforms have been implemented and it traces the role of reactionary politics in the fusing of ethnic and religious identity to control and patrol the populace at large. It thus provides a contemporary reading of not just identity politics but also wider political developments in Malaysia.

Generous in his appraisal of the book, Melbourne University’s Future Generation Professor in Anthropology and Social Theory, Ghassan Hage, said he learnt a lot from the book. He especially praised the newly coined concept of Islamicity, which is a welcome addition to the social theory that looks to explain Muslim societies. In particular, he commended the use of Husserl and Heidegger, their integration throughout the book weaving concepts like being-in-the-world into the overarching argument and providing ethnographic examples to flesh it out.

The launch was attended by anthropologists of all kinds, from Malaysianists to Indonesianists, from people studying religion to identity. Over a glass of wine, books were bought and views exchanged. This was like how book launches should be.


Not an issue going away soon
from Press News, posted 06/22/2011 - 10:21

Sometimes, tardy reviews of books published long ago are still hugely relevant  – especially when they concern issues that keep raising their ugly heads. Here is a case in point.

The review in question appeared in the latest issue of the International Quarterly for Asian Studies (a.k.a. Internationales Asienforum) and assessed the 2006 NIAS Press book edited by Maria Heimer and Stig Thøgersen, Doing Fieldwork in China.

In his review, Andreas Fulda praises the volume; it is, he writes, ‘essential reading for anyone conducting research on contemporary China’. But, after a lengthy paean of the book’s virtues, he adds:

This excellent volume has one failing: the lack of courage by contributors to address the fundamental question of academic autonomy. … By depoliticizing their China engagement, academics try to neutralize the presence of the party-state, solve the issue of access, and overcome the difficulties associated with collaboration. This pragmatic strategy, however understandable from the vantage point of an individual researcher engaging with China, comes at a high cost to the field of contemporary Chinese studies as a whole: it ultimately leads to a tacit acceptance of the official party-state discourse, a strong alignment with party-state controlled research organisations and a collaboration with some of the most conservative academics in the field.

This is not the first time that Andreas Fulda has aired these views (nor perhaps the last). But however old or new they are (or the volume being reviewed), the terms of academic engagement in different parts of the world is not an issue that is going to go away soon.


What a refreshing book!
from Press News, posted 05/26/2011 - 22:10

 The glass ceiling for women in Danish academia remains in place, according to a recently published study. The same is probably true around the world. I wonder, is a similar glass ceiling is operating with book prizes?

At the time we published Trudy Jacobsen’s Lost Goddesses back in 2008, I commented to Trudy, ‘Well, this is going to win the Benda.’ But, when the AAS book prizes were dished out in Philadelphia last year, the Harry J. Benda Prize went to someone else.

Blaming this outcome on the glass ceiling is somewhat difficult; plenty of women have won various Asian Studies book prizes. And yet I am at a loss to understand why such a ground-breaking study has not been showered with awards.

All the same, my conviction that Lost Goddesses was one of the best works that NIAS Press has published has been borne out in the reviews – not least in this recent review by Katherine A. Bowie (Wisconsin-Madison) appearing in latest issue of the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (Vol. 42 (2), 2011, pp. 354–355).

‘What a refreshing book!’, she exclaims at the beginning, before delving into the details of the study.

Jacobsen’s book is divided into 12 chapters, each providing a careful exploration of the available evidence for different historical periods. Her remarkable breadth is made possible by her interdisciplinary training in both history and anthropology. Not only is she able to draw upon language training in Sanskrit and Old Khmer, she has extended first-hand experience living in Cambodia first as a teenager during the eventful period of 1988–95 and subsequently while conducting fieldwork after 2001. Driven by a rare intellectual curiosity, Jacobsen draws upon an impressive array of sources, ranging from historical sources – such as stone inscriptions, Chinese dynastic histories, court chronicles, court literature, popular folktales, foreign travel accounts and French colonial records – to anthropological sources based upon participant-observation and interviews.

Although the full measure of the book is in its audacity to consider the longue durée, each chapter is engaging in its own right and reveals noticeable shifts.

Katherine Bowie’s enthusiasm for the study is not just a response to great scholarship; Lost Goddesses also ‘talks’ to the concerns and experience of many scholars.

All of us who have been interested in the status of women in Southeast Asia have found ourselves caught in an unresolved tension between a contemporary literature on sex workers and a historical literature suggesting that women held high status. Jacobsen resolves this tension by outlining a chronological transformation in the status of women over the course of two millennia.

It is not without reason, then, that Professor Bowie concludes:

This book is a major breakthrough in studies of the position of women not just in Cambodia, but also in Southeast Asia more broadly. Well researched, well argued, well written and clearly organised, Jacobsen’s book reveals the rich treasures possible from a feminist reading of traditional historical sources. I am looking forward to the debates this book is sure to provoke.

Debate would certainly be welcome. In the meantime, however, we recently posted an interview with Trudy Jacobsen recorded at the AAS in Philadelphia. Here, she talks about the background to her book and her own personal experiences. You can view this interview here.


Speaking out on women in Thai Buddhism
from Press News, posted 05/12/2011 - 11:29

The issue of the place of women in Buddhism is not going away, not least in the rather patriarchal Thai sangha. It is quite pertinent, then, that the 12th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women will be held in Bangkok on 12-18 June. And speaking at this conference will be one of our authors, Monica Lindberg Falk.

If you don’t have time to attend the conference and listen to Monica’s paper on Buddhist nuns and educational reform in Thailand, then you might instead be interested to view a short interview that we filmed in August 2010 at the Euroseas conference in Gothenburg. Here, the author of the Making Fields of Merit discusses the place of women in Buddhism, the growing push for female ordination and how Thai Buddhism is much more patriarchal than Buddhism per se. Monica also recounts how she became interested in this subject.


Lots of pictures, some moving
from Press News, posted 05/06/2011 - 18:58

A year ago, with much pleasure we announced our forthcoming publication of Plaited Arts of the Borneo Rainforest, a mammoth work edited by Bernard Sellato. At the time it seemed extraordinary that the volume would contain about 600 illustrations, most of them in colour. Now we hear that the volume’s 552 pages will contain 1,200 illustrations (930 in colour, 270 b&w). Wow.

(Such undertakings do not come cheap. As such, we note with thanks the crucial financial support of Total E&P Indonésie as part of its corporate social responsibility programme for preserving Indonesian cultural heritage.)

Anyway, for those of you impatiently waiting, we’d like to report that layout of the volume is almost finished and printing should commence soon.

While you are waiting, you might like to watch an interview we filmed with Bernard at the 2010 Euroseas conference in Gothenburg last August. This has just been output as 3 short films and posted today on our website and on YouTube:

1) Bernard recounts how first he came to know and love Borneo as a geologist (in 1973), later becoming a renowned anthropologist working on this land. Click here to view this interview.

2) He then describes how modernity is changing (often destroying) the world of Borneo's hunter-gatherers, the subject of his co-edited work, Beyond the Green Myth. Click here to view this interview.

3) Finally, he describes the incredible richness of Borneo's material culture, not least the basketry drawn from the products of the island's rainforest. This is the subject of Plaited Arts. Click here to view this interview.

This is the latest in a stream of author videos being released by NIAS Press. Expect more to follow in the next few days.


Talking directly to readers
from Press News, posted 05/05/2011 - 09:15

Books have many virtues but they don’t often scratch their nose or look the reader straight in the eye. One of the ways that NIAS Press is working to change that in a small way is by filming interviews with authors, letting them speak directly to their readers. These will be posted on the author’s web page as well as on YouTube.

Recently, at the ICAS-AAS conference in Honolulu, we were pleased to film quite a few authors and these will be coming online soon. Meantime, a series of interviews filmed at the 2010 Euroseas conference in Gothenburg last August will be rolled out in the next few days.

First up is Gerhard Hoffstaedter, who discusses the complex issue of Islam and identity in Malaysia and recounts how he became interested in this subject. His book, Modern Muslim Identities, was released recently in hardback. The paperback is currently being printed and will be available soon. Meantime, here is Gerhard’s interview.


Press news

  • Aug. 9 2019
    Carol Ann Boshier's book 'Mapping Cultural Nationalism: The Scholars of the Burma Research Society,1910-1935' has been shortlisted for the EuroSEAS Humanities Book Prize 2019. Congratulations!

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