Southeast Asia's Art Histories I

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History of Art and Archaeology & School of Arts

Module overview

This module will provide students with a broad basis in the arts of Southeast Asia, while exploring how art history and museology 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 as well as in the major British instiutions promoting knowledge of these arts - will ground sustained examination of the past, present and future of the discipline of Southeast Asian Art History, with a view to decolonization of the field. A principle focus will be exploring interpretive paradigms of 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, Pagan, Dvaravati, Sukhothai, and Java; illuminated manuscripts from the Malay and Buddhist worlds; sacred offerings from Bali; ceramics from Vietnam; the classical and modern registers of temple mural painting; and textiles. By following both a chronological and thematic approach, developing a disciplinary consciousness and understanding of the institutional contexts in which knowledge of Southeast Asian art has historically evolved, 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 and museology 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
  • Acquire knowledge of the history and collections of major British institutions promoting knowledge of Southeast Asian art
  • Situate the production of knowledge of Southeast Asian art 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

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: Maritime Mobilities and Currencies of Exchange I
  2. Maritime Mobilities and Currencies of Exchange II
  3. Angkor and Pagan
  4. Dvaravati and Sukhothai (V&A)
  5. Javanese Temples
  6. [Reading Week Option: Negara: The Theatre State]
  7. Image and Text in Islamic Art (British Library)
  8. Ceramics
  9. Wayang (British Museum)
  10. Painting and Textiles (Horniman Museum)
  11. Making a Region: Art, Humane Literacy, and History

Method of assessment

  • One 1,000 word short essay - 30%
  • One 2,000 word bibliographic essay - 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