Historical Knowledge in/on East and South-East Asia

Conference organised by Tallinn University, 13-15 September 2009

It is well known that in the typically retrospective cultures of East and South-East Asia, history has throughout the ages played an extremely important role as a source of identity formation, often related to the legitimation of the social order. Already Confucius referred to the mythical emperors of old as his source for inspiration, and many a social reformer throughout the region has presented his project as a return to good, but forgotten ways rather than as an effort to transform the unsatisfactory present into an ideal future. Political discourses, such as the unbroken imperial line of Japan, have been invented and used for the legitimation of different kinds of agendas; local, regional and national identities have been constructed on the basis of interpreted history, and historical themes have always inspired cultural self-expression in literature, theatre, film and so on.

But history has been, in these cultures, even more than that: after Sima Qian established the pattern of how to write history, the logic of historical writing has greatly influenced the organisation of knowledge as such, as well as the ways of how to formulate problems, to present arguments and to draw conclusions. Even in the 20th century, the introduction of modern ways of reasoning has not done away with this tradition. On the contrary, the introduction of Western politico- philosophical discourses, terminology, and the organization of political space into modern states have only added to the proliferation of ways describing the tradition, identity and social outlook of East and South-East Asian cultures. Controversies remain actual concerning the nature of frequently used as well as misused concepts, such as "nation", "self-determination" and "sovereignty", "historical borders", "(human) rights" and so on. School textbooks present sometimes distorted and censored pictures of history to pupils, who grow up to perpetuate ideologically tinted visions of the past of their countries, supported by the representation of the past in popular culture. The calls for rewriting histories, although existing (e.g. in Thailand vis-a-vis the need for a more inclusive history due to the insurgency in the South), remain weak and usually outside the national agendas.

We invite to the conference scholars and PhD candidates from all involved fields and methodological background (history, history of ideas, anthropology, philosophy, cultural studies, literary studies, social geography, education, etc.) to submit papers related to the nature and role of historical discourses and historical knowledge in the cultures of China, Japan, Korea and mainland Southeast Asia, both in the past and in current affairs. Abstracts (no longer than 300 words) should be sent in electronic form to Ms.Katja Koort (gejia[at]tlu.ee) by 30 March 2009. Papers will be circulated in advance so that brief presentations can take place at the workshop, followed by extensive discussion. Notification will be sent to prospective presenters by 8 April 2009. Draft versions of papers are to be submitted in advance of the workshop, by 10 June 2009.