Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Jacobsen, Trude

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of History


This dissertation documents cultural processes of decolonization and nation-building in the mid-twentieth century between 1950 and 1970 between Southeast Asia and the West, specifically between Burma, Malaya, Thailand, and Great Britain and the United States, as they occurred through transnational connections, migrations, spaces, and exchanges. This study proposes transnational factors were critical in such cultural processes, and proves this point through the examination of three case studies.

The first focuses on Malayan students in Great Britain in the early 1950s and how a group of them expressed anti-colonial ideas and desires for their own independent nation in a student journal, Suara Merdeka (“The Voice of Freedom”). Their status as transnational, temporary migrants and students, as well as their education, both provided them with the means to develop nascent nation-building ideas and protect them from punitive action by the British authorities. The second case study examines Thai students in the United States who became Thai language instructors for the Peace Corps. This chapter shows how these Thais used their transnational experiences and circular migration between Thailand and the United States to participate in Thai nation-making agendas. The last case study focuses on Burma, its national athletes, the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games and other modern competitive sports events. The Burmese state used transnational sports and its athletes to reframe global notions of modernity as Burmese. Sports and athletes were refracted through an indigenous Buddhist lens to make modernity Burmese. These three case studies show how significant transnational mechanisms were in processes of decolonization and nation-building agendas, on both individual and state levels.


300 pages




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