SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Southeast Asia's Art Histories

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

This module will provide students with a broad basis in the arts of Southeast Asia, while exploring how art history has played an integral role in defining the region that came to be identified only in the 20th century as 'Southeast Asia.' The breadth of knowledge gained - in a range of arts across the region - will ground sustained examination of  the past, present and future of the discipline of Southeast Asian Art History. A principal focus will be the selective mediation of Sinitic, Islamic, and regional Hindu-Buddhist influences to articulate local systems of representation, value, and power. Topics include sculpture and architecture associated with Angkor, Dvaravati, Sukhothai, and Central Java; illuminated manuscripts from the Malay world; sacred offerings from Bali; ceramics from Vietnam; and the classical and modern registers of temple mural painting. By following both a chronological and thematic approach, and developing a disciplinary consciousness, this module enables students to apprehend the vitality of forms in the arts of Southeast Asia across history and geography, their crucial role in defining aesthetics, cultural belonging, political prestige, and intercultural exchange, and the role of art historical scholarship in the ongoing definition of the region.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Acquire broad knowledge of key periods, styles, and themes in the art history of Southeast Asia
  • Develop visual literacy across a range of mediums, including architecture, sculpture, painting, metalwork and ceramics
  • Sustain critical analysis and interpretations of visual material supported by cultural, political, religious and economic contexts
  • Situate the arts of Southeast Asia in a global historical context
  • Develop abilities in research, written and verbal expression transferable across academic disciplines and professional pursuits


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 1 000 words essay (worth 30%)
  • One 2 000 words essay (worth 70%)

Suggested reading

  • Anderson, Benedict R. O'G. Mythology and the Tolerance of the Javanese. 2nd ed. Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Southeast Asia Program, 1996.
  • Boisselier, Jean. Thai Painting, NYC: Kodansha, 1976.
  • Geertz, Clifford. Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali. Princeton UP, 1980.
  • Guy, John and Rosemary Scott, eds. South East Asia & China: art, interaction & commerce. University of London, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, School of Oriental and African Studies, 1995.
  • Higham, Charles. The Archaeology of Mainland Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press, 1989
  • Holt, Claire. Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change. Cornell University Press, 1967.
  • Mrázek, Jan, and Morgan Pitelka, eds. What’s the Use of Art: Asian Visual and Material Culture in Context. University of Hawaii Press, 2008.
  • Schober, Juliane, ed. Sacred Biography in the Buddhist Traditions of South and Southeast Asia. University of Hawai'i Press, 1997.
  • Stevenson, John, ed. Vietnamese Ceramics: A Separate Tradition. Chicago: Art Media Resources, 1997.
  • Taylor, Nora A., ed. Studies in Southeast Asian Art: Essays in Honor of Stanley J. O’Connor. Cornell University Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2000


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules