South and Southeast Asian Studies 24, Section 1

Southeast Asia by Mail: The Lost Arts of Letter Writing (1 unit, LG)

Professor Penny Edwards
Monday 4:00-5:00, 210 Dwinelle Hall, Class number: 59222

This new freshman seminar explores Southeast Asia through letters–actual and fictional, poetic and political, prosaic and musical. We will consider the form and function of letters, and their use as historical sources, private expression, and literary genre. In the age of tweets and “hey professor!," we will also discuss the disappearing etiquette of letter-writing.

Each week, students will receive a different letter(s) introducing them to different parts, pasts and voices of/from/to Southeast Asia. 40% of your grade will be based on participation & discussion, and 60% on written work comprising twelve letters responding to the readings of the week.

Our readings include 19th century letters by the Burmese monk Ledi Sayadaw and the Indonesian princess Kartini, excerpts from Michio Takeyama’s 1950s novel Harp of Burma, Botan’s 1960’s novel Letters from Thailand, Letters from Burma by 1990s Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and contemporary poetry by Hmong American poets Khaty Xiong and Mai Der Vang. We will also read private letters from Southeast Asian and European archives. We will also consider poetry, prose and song by Benedict Anderson, W. H. Auden, Eavan Boland, Jimmy Cliff, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Wilkie Collins, Eminem, Herman Hesse, Yusuf Komunyakaa and Natasha Tretheway.

Instructor Bio

Penny Edwards teaches Southeast Asian studies. She is the author of the prize-winning book Cambodge: The cultivation of a nation, and recipient of the U.C. Berkeley 2013 Outstanding Mentoring of GSIs Award. She has published over twenty articles on gender, ethnic and racial identity under French and British colonialism, and is co-editor of Lost in the Whitewash: Aboriginal-Asian Encounters in Australia from Federation to Reconciliation (2003) and Pigments of the Imagination: Rethinking Mixed Race (2007).


Faculty web site: http://sseas.berkeley.edu/people/faculty/penny-edwards