The history of Siam, on one hand, merges into archaeology and, on another, blurs into fable. In the manner of Oriental kingdoms, chronicles that were made and kept at the royal palace recorded important events in Siamese history over more than five hundred years. From these, and from inscriptions, records of edicts, and the chronicles of other nations such as Burmese kingdoms and China, an outline of ancient Siamese history has been reconstructed by both Thai and Western scholars. Notable among these historical sources are portions of D. G. E. Hall’s History of Southeast Asia and the work of W. A. R. Wood, onetime British Consul General at Chiengmai, whose outline of old Thai history exemplifies the contribution made by a number of foreign officials to our knowledge of Thailand. The scholarship of other Westerners who came to Thailand to participate in its modernization during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is an important source of background data on contemporary Thailand, and much of it can be found in issues of the Journal of the Siam Society, published annually in Bangkok since 1904, except during World War II. The development of Thai scholarship in history and related areas can also be sketched, to some extent, by reference to the Journal.
As for ancient Thai sources, many were lost in the sack of the Siamese capital, Ayudhya, by the Burmese in 1767. But one of the major aims of the first king of the Chakri dynasty (or Bangkok era) was to recollect and record the laws, rituals, and traditions of the past. The annals of the Ayudhyan dynasty (1350-1767) were reconstructed and eventually published in 1912. These Pharatchaponsawadan chabap praratchahatleka are a useful source of insight into the nature and concerns of ancient Thai royalty. Later the annals of the first five kings of the Chakri dynasty were also published. They are among the pertinent records of the nineteenth-century Thai government.
Studies of Thailand and its government by Westerners began to appear in growing numbers a little more than a hundred years ago, with the coming of American Protestant missionaries and Western traders, diplomats, governmental aides, and advisors. A few others trace back to the seventeenth century and earlier, to such materials as the description of Siam by Simon de la Loubére, published in Paris in 1691 and in London two years later.
In 1688 Siam withdrew from contact with the West. By the nineteenth century, however, with the British in Burma and the French in Indochina, Western nations could no longer be ignored. For the past century and a half, the history of Thailand has comprised a series of accommodations to Western politics, economics, technology, and culture. Much of this history has been written by Westerners, figuratively through their contributions to the modernization of the country, and literally through accounts of their efforts and experiences and their studies in fields ranging from archaeology to anthropology. George Coedès, Robert Lingat, H. G. Quaritch Wales, August Pavie, Reginald le May, Erik Seidenfaden, O. Frankfurter, G. E. Gerini, and Walter Graham are among the notable names in the literature concerning Thailand that emerged during and after the astounding epoch known as the Chakri Reformation — the governmental modernization begun by King Mongkut (1854-1867) and carried forward by his distinguished son, King Chulalongkorn (1867-1910).
This reformation also produced Thai writings important to the study of the nation and its government, among them the correspondence, messages, and edicts of that legendary potentate, Mongkut. In the reign of his son, reports and statistics began to appear, along with a mounting flow of laws and regulations in the Western style. At the same time, a new Thai scholarship was exemplified and nurtured by one of the most impressive men in Thailand’s long history: Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, Minister of Interior, renovator of the National Library, promoter of modern education in Thailand, and no mean scholar in his own right.
Damrong’s followers have been few in number. Less than ten per cent of the citations in the Thai section of John Embree and Lillian Dotson’s Bibliography of the Peoples and Culture of Mainland Southeast Asia refer to Thai authors. Prince Damrong had a respect bordering on reverence for his nation’s heritage, and he devoted time, effort, and expense to the collection of artifacts as well as documents of value to future scholars. But the forces of history conspired to thwart many of the hopes he may have had concerning Thai scholarship. The reconstruction of the government claimed most of the available talent. The institutions of higher education which emerged in the twentieth century were committed to teaching and training rather than to research. And intellectual efforts have had to be largely self-rewarding and self-financed in the particular context of Thai society. For these and other reasons, scholarship in the humanities and the social sciences did not flourish among Thais, although the situation is now changing.
Well into this century much of the writing about Thailand and its government was descriptive, and to a considerable extent, subjective. The most systematic work concerned history, archaeology, anthropology, and the natural sciences. As for assessments of the Thai people and their governmental and economic arrangements, one finds rather sweeping personal judgments recorded as early as 1870 by Mrs. Anna Leonowens, tutor to the children of King Mongkut, and as recently as 1941 by Virginia Thompson, in her book Thailand, the New Siam.
Studies consciously reflecting the perspectives, concepts, and methods of the modern social sciences began to appear in the 1930’s. One of the first was Professor Carl C. Zimmerman’s systematic survey of the economic characteristics of rural Thailand, published in 1931. Other works of this new era included Kenneth Perry Landon’s study of the cultural trends in postrevolutionary Thailand, covering the five years following the 1932 revolution. During the 1930’s, Reginald le May was engaged in research for his Culture of Southeast Asia, published in 1954, and Erik Seidenfaden was pursuing the anthropological and ethnological work that culminated in a monograph, The Thai Peopies (1958), not published until after his death. H. G. Quaritch Wales, who approached the study of Siamese court ceremonies from a semi-sociological perspective, Robert Lingat, systematically studying Siamese law as well as religion, and George Coedès, examining and evaluating information on Thai culture and history, were among the Westerners in the 1930’s engaged in studies that might be classed within the social sciences.
But the literature of Thai economics, politics, sociology, and social anthropology did not really flourish until the years following World War II. The Southeast Asia Program of Cornell University was a prime source of impetus to work ranging from an examination of myriad aspects of existence in the village of Bang Chan to David Wilson’s portrait of Thai national politics. Scholars from other Western universities have also made systematic contributions to an understanding of Thai government and society, as the following citations indicate. The post-war period has also been marked by a significant growth in the number of theses and dissertations concerned with Thai politics, economics, and sociocultural setting. These furnish a rough but relevant index of contemporary Western patterns of scholarship related to Thailand, and they are sometimes a fruitful source of information.
To mid-1968, 136 doctoral dissertations concerning Thailand were accepted at American universities.* Only five of them were completed before 1941; all but eleven were completed after 1950. Of the dissertations, eighty-eight were written by Thais, but forty-one of these were concerned with Thai education. Twentytwo of the dissertations written by Thai students were concerned with the Thai economy, sixteen with Thai international relations, government, politics and administration, and only one with aspects of Thai culture. Of the dissertations on Thai subjects not written by Thais, at least eighteen dealt with aspects of Thai cuiture and society, about thirteen were studies of facets of Thai international relations or domestic government, and the rest were distributed among economics, linguistics, history, and education.
The fact that nearly half of the dissertations written by Thais on Thai subjects were in the field of education is not surprising.** That twenty-three dealt with economics is again consistent with expectations. Of all the social sciences, the one best established in Thailand is economics. Thailand has an abiding commitment to economic development — a commitment linked with concern for national survival. The utility of economics has been demonstrated and accepted in the decision-making center of Thai government; the importance of sound fiscal and monetary policy has been recognized since early in the Chakri Reformation.
Six of the sixteen Thai dissertations that might roughly be classified as “political science” are concerned with international relations. This, too, is to be expected, in view of the importance of diplomacy to the only nation in Southeast Asia that escaped colonial domination by the West. The other dissertations in the field largely describe formal institutional aspects of Thai government; for example, one is a detailed description of the actors and events of the bloodless revolution of 1932, in which the Chakri dynasty was overthrown. The analysis of contemporary political processes in Thailand has not been the subject of dissertations by Thai scholars up to now. Nor had more than two Thai doctoral studies in the field of sociology been completed by mid-1968.
This survey of dissertations is not conclusive evidence of the disciplinary identification of Thai social scientists, since other Thais have written dissertations on non-Thai subjects. But the pattern found here is more or less suggestive of the position of the social sciences in Thailand, and of the kinds of social scienee perspectives and methods which have been brought to bear upon the study of Thailand by Thais.
One may summarize the state of the systematic literature concerning Thai government and its setting in terms of these characteristics:
First, to date most of it has been produced by non-Thais.
Second, only a small part of the relatively recent work has consisted of systematic analysis using the perspectives and methods of the social sciences — and most of this is in economics.
Third, little of this literature is currently available in the Thai language, although an increasing share of the findings in studies about Thailand has become available to Thai students through the lectures and textual materials of Thai instructors trained abroad in the social sciences.
Fourth, the literature on the Thai political system and its socio-cultural setting is quite uneven. Economics and education seem to be the most extensively covered subjects.
It is difficult to anticipate future developments in scholarship in the social sciences dealing with Thailand. The growth of a literature is not an end, but the derivative result of a large number of interacting aims and efforts.
The volume of systematic studies of Thai government and society will expand in the coming years. Large and rapid changes have been taking place in the advanced education of Thais. The number of Thai social scientists grows, and the foundations of Thai scholarship are expanding. Thai society is also growing in size and complexity at an almost explosive rate. Accordingly, the needs are increasing for studies by social scientists concerning what is happening. Furthermore, social sciences, with their utility as policy-making tools, can enhance the quality of decision-making in Thai government and business, and Thais have never been unwilling to adopt science and technology when their value is apparent. The continuing development of the Thai educational system also creates expanding needs and opportunities for social science studies in Thailand, and of Thailand. Finally, the continuing and growing involvement of Thais in an international community of scholars within the social sciences inevitably will promote the systematic study, by Thais as well as foreigners, of aspects of Thai government and society. On the other hand, much Thai work in the social sciences no doubt will appear in the form of technical reports and memoranda. Many of these items will probably never enter the universe of “literature.”
The instrumentalities of scholarly communication and the incentives to engage in it must be developed if social science scholarship in Thailand is to grow. The National Institute of Development Administration’s journal may be one promising means by which Thai scholars can reach Thai and, to some extent, international audiences. But this Journal of Development Administration is limited in scope and orientation, and has not been wellsupported. Recently another journal has been established, by the Social Science Association of Thailand, published in Thai but with occasional English articles. The Social Science Association is itself a portent of scholarly development. By 1965 it had published twelve books, most of them texts, but at least one, cited below, an English-language study by a French economist.
The limited “size of the market” is not conducive to scholar ly writing by Thais, in Thai, in the social sciences. Other limitations are probably more important, however, and these include the reward system for Thai educators. Up to this point, enhanced status and income have not been linked particularly to scholarly endeavors.
As for foreign scholarship, one problem is the exquisite difficultyof the Thai language. Nevertheless, American Peace Corps volunteers who have acquired both basic language competence and Thai field experience offer promise for the future. Out of this growing group is likely to come a number of scholars committed to applying the perspectives, concepts, and methods of the social sciences to the study of Thai government and society.
In short, the present state of literature in the area covered by this bibliographic guide leaves something to be desired by the scholar who would study Thai government and society from published sources. But there are interesting prospects, and the chances are that any future revision of this limited guide would incorporate a new group of penetrating studies. In fact, this publication is based on the assumption that now is a good time for a systematic but selective survey of the existing body of material. Soon the corpus will be too large to manage in this fashion. And hopefully, this effort may serve as a point of departure for future scholars confronted with an ever-growing mass of materials. If it can serve them as a base, by selectively identifying highly relevant items that have appeared as late as 1969, and by identifying key sources of information for the years ahead, then this work will have served its purpose.
* The data that follow are from Lian The and Paul W. van der Veur, Trea՛ sures and Trivia: Doctoral Dissertations on Southeast Asia Accepted by Universities in the United States (Athens, Ohio: Center for International Studies, Ohio University, 1968), pages 125ff.
** The heavy concentration in education has been, in some part, a consequence of the availability of U.S. Agency for International Development and other foreign scholarship opportunities, i.e., influenced if not largely determined by foreign assistance grantors.