We ask authors of books reviewed in Oral History Review to answer 5 questions about why we should read their books. In our latest installment of the series, Loh Kah Seng discusses Oral History in Southeast Asia: Memories and Fragments.
Jessica Martucci’s review of Oral History in Southeast Asia: Memories and Fragments is available online and in issue 47.1 of OHR.
What’s your book about and why does it matter?
The book contains contributions from Southeast Asia, a diverse region where oral history work is still not widely known, and where it often (but not always) contends as fragments against dominant state narratives.
How does oral history contribute to your book?
The volume draws upon oral history fieldwork in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and deals with memory politics among a varied group of Southeast Asians: workers, communists, rebels, massacre survivors, villagers, and former leprosy patients.
What do you like about using oral history as a methodology?
In an academic sense, oral history in the region is incredibly rich and capable of disturbing dominant narratives. But it does not always do so, possessing a sometimes ambivalent relationship to power. Speaking about the past in the context of Southeast Asia—a bundle of nation-states with conflicted recent political and social histories—is both rewarding and challenging work.
Why will fellow oral historians be interested in your book?
Southeast Asia offers interesting ways to understand oral history in the context of decolonization, the Cold War and counter-insurgency, rapid industrialization, and medicalization of the state. Our book is a small (and old) one, and hopefully will spur further regional perspectives and trans-regional comparisons on oral history.
What is the one thing that you most want readers to remember about the book?
That oral history remains relevant and valuable today in many places in the world, particularly due to some of its original impetus, namely the relationship between memory, power and social change.