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Ambiguous Commodities, Unstable Frontiers: The Case of Burma, Siam, and Imperial Britain, 1800–1900

  • Eric Tagliacozzo (a1)

At the turn of the nineteenth century in Southeast Asia, the Kingdoms of Burma and Siam were largely stable, independent polities: powerful in relation to their neighbors, self-sufficient in terms of food, and possessing little reason to believe that these parameters would be changing within the clearly foreseeable future.See Victor Lieberman, “Secular Trends in Burmese Economic History, 1350–1830, and their Implications for State-Formation,” Modern Asian Studies 25, 1 (1991), p. 22. A century later, Burma as an independent entity had disappeared off the map, and Siam—at least in terms of its official foreign trade—was an economic satellite of the British Empire. Burmese teak now floated downstream to British Rangoon, while Siamese rice was carried to the world in the hulls of British ships. The Burmese monarchy had been disbanded; 93 percent of all official Siamese imports and exports were in the hands of London's merchants.George Curzon, “The Siamese Boundary Question,” The Nineteenth Century 34, July (1893), pp. 53–54. How did these transformations occur, and why? Were the processes of domination geared toward the economies, politics, or “geobodies” of these two countries, or toward an integrated combination of all three? What role did material objects of trade themselves play in this process, objects that were often deemed illegal as they passed through unstable, liminal spaces along the frontier?

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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