SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Upland societies and lowland polities in Asia

Dr Cristina Bignami (Tübingen), Dr Daniela De Simone (British Museum), Dr Letizia Trinco (La Sapienza, University of Rome), and Dr Michael Willis (British Museum)

Date: 11 September 2018Time: 2:00 PM

Finishes: 11 September 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Paul Webley Wing (Senate House) Room: S211

Type of Event: Workshop


The study of the relationship between upland societies and lowland polities is in its early stages within Asian studies. Historians have tended to focus on the development of lowland polities centred on royal and ritual sites with their monumental remains, and the concurrent emergence of religions, technologies, agriculture and trade. Upland societies stand apart, although they have played an important role in Asia in the longue durée. The theoretical framework created by James Scott for the study of upland societies in South East Asia and the methodological approaches developed by Subaltern Studies for data collection and analysis of marginal social groups have significantly contributed to the debate on the pre-modern history of Asia. However, their theories and approaches have proved limited to determine what role upland societies played in the making of Asia. This workshop will focus on the nature and content of the upland-lowland exchange, the features of upland language, archaeology and culture, and the theoretical and practical methodologies that might be deployed in South Asia to foster a compelling interdisciplinary approach.

Position papers by 
  • Dr Daniela De Simone (British Museum), "Of forest-dwellers, wild animals and spices: towards an archaeology and pre-colonial history of Indian upland forests" 
  • Dr Cristina Bignami (Tübingen), "Kings of the wild"
  • Dr Michael Willis (British Museum), "Highland collections, archaeology and the archaeology of religion"
  • Dr Letizia Trinco (La Sapienza, University of Rome), "Hero-stones: what tradition, whose tradition? Reflections on the liminality of some funerary monuments in South Asia"


Registration is required of all participants.

Organiser: SOAS University of London

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7879 4892/3

Sponsor: European Research Council