Press news

When the phones stop ringing
from Press News, posted 12/23/2011 - 15:28

Recently, it’s been a wee bit mad at NIAS with Kim Jong-il dying and the media from all over ringing for comment. It is moreover our financial end of year and - incidentally - three new books headed off to the printer this week (more about that later).

But when the phones stop ringing, the building is silent and the coffee machine goes on strike, well maybe it’s time to stop staring into the computer.

Time indeed to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a fruitful, rewarding new year. See you in January.


All aboard the McCargo Express
from Press News, posted 12/01/2011 - 14:28

 Perhaps as befitting his globetrotter reputation, Duncan McCargo launched his latest book, Mapping National Anxieties, at several venues in November. And there is more to come.

Of special note for us was the launch at NIAS on November 17th. Here, a wee celebration of the book was preceded by a fascinating lecture by Professor McCargo of his ‘take’ on the southern Thai situation and its wider implications for the country’s future. The fact that this low-profile conflict has been one of the world’s bloodiest in recent years – #3 behind Iraq and Afghanistan – was surprising. He also made a fascinating comparison of this conflict with that from the 1980s and ’90s in Northern Ireland (the author spent a year in Belfast at the height of the ‘Troubles’). All in all, this was a well-attended launch with a great deal of interaction between the attendees.

Thereafter, the author presented his book in Stockholm on the 21st and again in Oslo a week later.

Now we hear that Professor McCargo will be showcasing the book in New York next week, at a ‘Brown Bag Discussion / Book Talk’ at Columbia University on the 9th. Should you be in the vicinity of this event, you will find it well worth the trip to attend; Duncan is always an entertaining speaker. Further details are here.

No doubt a hometown launch of the book in Leeds will follow one of these days, if his colleagues can tie him down.


Making a difference
from Press News, posted 11/18/2011 - 08:01

All of will be familiar with requests from above for this report or that plan, next year’s budget or last year’s results, often to be delivered at short notice. It was thus refreshing recently to be asked to supply one or more success stories for the Press, things that showed how the work that we do actually makes a difference.

At the risk of sounding boastful, here is a few of those stories.

Building careers

In line with the institute’s task to support Asian studies in the Nordic region, NIAS Press has worked to publish the work of (especially young) Nordic scholars and bring this to the attention of the international scholarly community. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the careers of many Nordic scholars now in positions of influence (at home and increasingly abroad) were founded or have been boosted by being published by NIAS.

Nurturing new authors

Indeed, our focus on nurturing new authors - not always an easy matter - has spawned a sideline activity: running seminars for PhD students and post-docs on getting published. Time and again, we are thanked by newly published authors (many of them not published by NIAS) for the insights and hard information we offered them at a critical moment.

Going the extra distance for all authors

A continual problem for Asian-studies authors is the unwillingness of publishers to work with non-Latin scripts (or indeed entertain the idea of footnotes). NIAS Press may not be a publishing giant but it is known for going the extra distance for its authors and building a sense of family and loyalty in the process. The other day when visiting Copenhagen, Professor Duncan McCargo of Leeds University (whose Mapping National Anxieties was recently published by NIAS Press) commented that NIAS was the only publisher he knew who not only offered footnotes but also Thai script in both the text and footnotes, not simply buried away in a glossary.

Building an international profile

A key consideration behind the launch of a full-time, professional publishing programme at NIAS in the early 1990s was to raise the international profile of the institute. This goal was soon realised but not without some ‘mistranslation’ in the process. Frequently, when travelling in Asia, NIAS staff get to visit far larger institutes (often with 100 or more researchers). Quite frequently, here the perception is that, with NIAS being so prominent on the Asian studies scene, it must be at least of an equivalent size.

Visible in many places

One nitty-gritty reason for the international reach of NIAS Press is its global network of distributors and agents promoting and selling our books. That - plus our policy of generally publishing low-cost paperback editions of our books - means that NIAS books are found not only on the shelves of (say) the Bodleian Library in Oxford and Menzies Library in Canberra but also in countless bookstores like Monument Books in Phnom Penh.

Daring to be innovative

Arguably, all scholarship should be innovative even if building on earlier work. Sadly, much that is published in all academic fields is of the ‘me too’ variety (often for commercial reasons). One thing that we are proud of at NIAS Press, however, is record of moving the scholarly discourse in new directions. Social perceptions of the environment, Asian values, the threat (or mirage) of maritime piracy and various awkward political issues are some of the things that spring to mind.

Offering alternative viewpoints

A significant number of books published by NIAS have been by authors associated with the international development work of Danida and Sida. This work tends to have a different approach to development than that pushed by the ‘Washington Consensus’ (IMF, World Bank, etc.). It has been interesting to receive feedback from various Asian diplomats that publication and a wide dissemination of this alternative approach is much appreciated in Asia.


Beyond defensiveness
from Press News, posted 11/14/2011 - 12:34

It is one thing for us to lambast the situation in our own country, another for outsiders (ignorant foreigners) to level any criticism. This defensiveness is a very human reaction and rather common in academic circles. Not surprisingly, Constructing Singapore by Michael Barr and Zatko Skrbiš has provoked a fair amount of local criticism in Singapore since its publication two years ago.

It was thus refreshing to read a far more measured response to the study by the Singaporean scholar, You Yenn Teo, recently published in Pacific Affairs (vol. 84:3, September 2011). Although in a few respects critical of the study, nonetheless overall he is rather positive about the book.

Constructing Singapore begins with a provocative claim: that Singapore, outwardly a modern, secular state committed to meritocracy and multiracialism has in fact, beginning from the 1980s, moved toward a model of nation building that prioritizes ethnic Chinese and a particular form of Chineseness. Focusing on the education system and particularly on elite selection within it, Barr and Skrbiš draw on historical data and interviews with key informants, to illustrate the ways in which ethnic minorities are systematically disadvantaged and left out of the administrative and political elite in contemporary Singapore.

This book is a welcome addition to recent critical scholarship on the Singapore state and particularly its incomplete and often one-sided version of history. In its detailing of Singapore’s education system over the past few decades, it provides a valuable record of key moments and changes, central logics and tensions. Most importantly, the authors maintain a sustained commitment to showing the institutionalization of inequalities. They paint a compelling image of what these patterns of segregation have meant for Singaporean Malays in particular, and for Singapore citizens more generally. 


Barr and Skrbiš end with another provocative claim: that the system of elitism fosters among ordinary Singaporeans a sense of skepticism and distaste that may ultimately undermine sentiments of national belonging. 

The book will not be surprising for scholars familiar with the Singapore case, particular those who have themselves undergone the education system, but its attention to the specificities of the system gives much-needed concreteness to impressions. 

As the authors point out, the ethnic Chinese majority are often oblivious to their own advantages. I can therefore see the book opening the eyes and shaping discussions in university classrooms. Barr and Skrbiš have also paved the way for future research by showing the gaps in our understanding of how inequality is reproduced and the costs that are borne by all Singaporeans.

This review is unlikely to change attitudes to Constructing Singapore in some quarters. Nonetheless, having an insider acknowledge that these particular outsiders are not ignorant (and their study not rubbish) - far from it - is very much welcome here at the Press.


Printing difficulties
from Press News, posted 11/03/2011 - 08:28

In our latest e-newsletter (released yesterday) we announced the recent release of Duncan McCargo’s Mapping National Anxieties. To tell the truth, the book is only available in Europe right now. Copies will be available in North America soon but Asian copies are another matter. This is the street where the book will be printed in Thailand.

Much of the news we get here in Europe focuses on flooding in Bangkok. But, as you can see from this screenshot of a UNOSAT webpage, the flooding is far more extensive throughout Thailand than this. (Nor does this map show the full extent of flooding.)

As such, for those of you in Asia keen to get a copy of Duncan’s book, please be patient a little longer. Not so much for your sake than for the poor people of Thailand affected by the situation, we hope that these floodwaters dissipate soon.


Taking risks
from Press News, posted 10/10/2011 - 15:26

Late last year, when were we about to publish Saying the Unsayable,  we knew there was a chance that this study of the Thai monarchy might be banned in Thailand (indeed, might fall foul of the country’s strict lèse-majesté laws). Certainly, we didn’t want our authors, distributor or ourselves to end up in prison like the Australian, Harry Nicolaides, did in 2009.

We worked hard to avoid that outcome, and succeeded. This was not surprising to Chris Baker, writing a review of the book last December in the Bangkok Post: ‘this is a careful book which has nothing personal or strident, no whiff of revolt.’

Michael K. Connors disagrees. In a 17-page review essay of the book appearing in the latest issue of the Journal of Contemporary Asia (vol. 41:4), he writes:

Radical pamphleteering it is not, but there is revolt in the fashioning of wide-ranging and well-grounded arguments that carefully mould the unsayable into the sayable. This approach has ensured the book remains on sale in Thailand, despite its challenge to monarchical myths. […]

But if we are to take anything from the massive increase in lèse-majesté cases and the draconian efforts of the state to close down discussion, it is that STV [the Standard view of the Thai Monarchy] and its liberal variants have been worn thin, and a new politics is struggling to burst through. Individuals and groups, not yet acting as a collective social force, are beginning to say the unsayable, even if at times in crude form. They are literally taking the wall down, piece by piece, making possible important books such as this. In speaking and relating to this mood, Saying the Unsayable is a pioneering scholarly work. It is likely to outlast the precarious times that have produced it.

Risks add a little frisson to the working day. Succeeding is even better!


Almost perfect
from Press News, posted 09/28/2011 - 11:09

 NIAS Press has been visible at a number of conferences since the giant ICAS–AAS conference in Honolulu just before Easter. Most significant was the annual meeting of ASEASUK (the Association of South-East Asian Studies in the United Kingdom), held in perfect autumn weather at Magdalene College in Cambridge earlier this month.

At the conference, NIAS Press hosted a book exhibition by 18 different presses publishing in Asian studies. This was a huge hassle to organise beforehand (like trying to herd cats into water, as my old colleague Marie Lenstrup would say) but the whole thing went off well. Conference-goers were happy with the vastly expanded selection of books about Southeast Asia on display (and certainly we were not unhappy with the sales either).

As always, this premier Southeast Asian studies conference in Europe for 2011 allowed us not only to present our books but also meet up with old friends and new. Different book ideas were floated; some may materialise as books at a future date.

Terry King and Annabel Vallard

Such is the conference life of academic publishers – future hope but (ideally) cool cash in the pocket right now.

During quiet moments at ASEASUK, we also planned to film interviews with five of our authors, these to be added to our ‘YouTube collection’ (like this one filmed at the AAS earlier this year). Unfortunately, in all cases, mysteriously the interviews fell through – delayed but not forgotten (a hint to each and all of you).


Reviews of the future?
from Press News, posted 09/26/2011 - 10:50

In case you haven’t noticed, Amazon is steadily taking over the publishing world (not alone, mind you – a three-way carve up with Google and Apple could well happen). As a small academic press, we can get nervous about this. At the same time, however, in all sorts of small ways Amazon is a force for positive change – like, for example, in the case of book reviews.

Generally, academic journals do take their time to publish a book review – a year is not unusual. Increasingly, then, readers are making use of alternative advice, not least in the reviews posted on

For instance, no review of Cambodians and Their Doctors has yet been published in an academic journal. But the following review on Amazon – titled ‘An excellent resource for newcomers to the Cambodian Health System’ – appeared in July:

This extensive, fully referenced work provides an authoritative account of the history of the health care system in Cambodia from the French Indo-China period through independence, the ravages of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot and the post KR recovery. It describes and explains the present situation in the country including doctors, nurses, midwives and traditional healers. Packed with information, it is easier to use as a reference work or for reading relevant chapters rather than as a narrative to be followed chronologically in detail. The cost reflects the fact that it is an academic work but is fully justified by the quality and upto date nature of the material it contains. I would recommend it to any serious professional who wishes to understand the basis on which the present health care system is founded with its inherent flaws, limitations and corruption. Could be a good investment.

As you can see, the book was rated four stars out of a possible five.

With fewer academic journals publishing reviews than before, could this be the shape of the future?


Bread, cheese and bloody conflict
from Press News, posted 09/13/2011 - 14:03
Sadly, there were no real Vietnamese nêm on the table to celebrate the arrival of the first advance copy of Chris Goscha’s Historical Dictionary of the Indochina War at NIAS yesterday. Instead, we made do with French cheese and Danish bread (quite superior to le pain français).
This is a massive work, as perhaps can be seen in the photo and the screen shot of a double-page spread below.
Not for nothing, then, has Fredrik Logevall of Cornell University called it:
A magnificent achievement. No one has ever attempted this kind of comprehensive reference work on the First Indochina War; Christopher Goscha not only attempts it but succeeds marvelously. More than a dictionary, this volume is a major addition to the literature, an essential resource for all students of the struggle, produced by a leading historian working at the top of his powers.
The ANU’s David Marr agrees. It is, he enthuses, ‘a milestone in the field, which will be consulted for decades’. A key element here is its international scope:
This is the first historical dictionary about Vietnam in any language to mine French and Vietnamese sources in equal measure. It ranges beyond Vietnamese and French participants to provide equally incisive entries on British, Chinese, Lao, Cambodian, American and Soviet actors in a war that took on important international dimensions. The prodigious amount of research that Goscha has put into this dictionary ensures its longevity.
David added privately that NIAS Press is to be congratulated for taking on this major project. Yes, it is a major work that was an equally major undertaking for a smaller press like NIAS. But it was also our privilege to be involved in bringing such a significant work to fruition; we would do it again.


Worth more than 1,000 words
from Press News, posted 08/22/2011 - 08:16

 Strange how a duck can get in the way of scholarly communication, sad when it blocks a message that is valuable.

Given Robert Cribb’s long involvement with map-making – and his success in demonstrating that serious scholarly works can be enriched by high-quality maps – we thought it would be interesting to hear his thoughts and experience on the subject. To this purpose, we first interviewed him in December 2009, shortly before his Digital Atlas of Indonesian History was finished.

Unfortunately, at this point a duck entered the picture - specifically, my duck, a wooden head on which I put my reading glasses at home when not in use. (This was where we filmed the interview.) Robert is squeezed into the left edge of the picture, the duck watches us implacably on the right.

After previewing the first clip from the interview, both Robert and I agreed we would re-film it. It was not until March this year, however, just before the ICAS/AAS conference in Honolulu, that we managed to do this. The results (with links to the actual clips on YouTube) are now posted on the Digital Atlas website.

There are 14 short film clips in total grouped under three topics:

The Cartographer

1) First encounters with map-making

2) How cartography has changed in recent years

3) The case for digital cartography

4) Challenges as a map-maker

5) Can a cartographer also be an historian?

The Case for Maps

6) What maps offer

7) Do maps depict reality or create new realities?

On Map-Making

8) What you need to begin making maps

9) Why CorelDraw or Illustrator is preferable for map-making

10) Copyright issues in map-making

11) Dealing with uncertain borders in map-making

12) Map projections and their political implications

13) The place of geographic information systems in map-making

14) Reference works on map-making

This is an interesting interview, one that we recommend to anyone who writes and publishes. And – because not everything was covered properly in the second interview that was filmed in the first – the duck even gets a look in (right from the start).

Beyond this interview is the Digital Atlas itself. To enjoy its maps in all their glory (and to print, download them, etc.) you need first to login. If you would like a brief visit there, send me a mail (to gerald[at] and I’ll issue you a temporary visitor’s pass.


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