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Reinterpreting Burmese History

  • Victor B. Lieberman (a1)

Problems of periodization have received but limited attention in Burmese historiography. Precolonial, that is to say, pre-nineteenth-century history, is said to be of a piece, without significant institutional or social transformations. Dynasties and rulers changed, of course, sometimes with stunning rapidity; but it is always assumed that these oscillations occurred within a static framework. Lamenting the failure of the early Kon-baung kings to move their capital to the coast, G. E. Harvey, whose history remains the standard work on the precolonial era, observes, “Their ideas remained in the nineteenth century what they had been in the ninth. To build pagodas, to collect daughters from tributary chiefs, to sally forth on slave raids, to make wars for white elephants—these conceptions had had their day, and a monarchy which failed to get beyond them was doomed.” In the same vein, it has recently been argued that no “significant transformations” occurred between the origins and collapse of monarchical Burma. The entire precolonial royal era “should be viewed as one entity,” for from the mid-ninth to the late nineteenth century “the major features of [Burma's] political, economic, social, administrative, and religious systems were also virtually identical.”

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Robert H. Taylor , “Party, Class and Power in British Burma,” Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 19:1 (1981), 46

E. Sarkisyanz , Buddhist Backgrounds of the Burmese Revolution (The Hague, 1965)

Robert H. Taylor , “Perceptions of Ethnicity in the Politics of Burma,” Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science, 10:1 (1982), 722

Harold Crouch , “Patrimonialism and Military Rule in Indonesia,” World Politics, 31:4 (1979), 571–87

Benedict R. O’G. Anderson , “Old State, New Society: Indonesia's New Order in Comparative Historical Perspective,” Journal of Asian Studies, 42:3 (1983), 477– 96

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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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