U-M Library’s Gedney Collection Helps Scholars Translate Epic Thai Tale


By Kate Wright
Mar 28, 2011 Bookmark and Share

Translation is tale’s first in its entirety

ANN ARBOR, MICH., March 28, 2011 – Two scholars of Thailand will visit the University of Michigan campus to discuss their new English translation of the epic Thai tale “Khun Chang Khun Phaen.” This is the first time the tale has been translated into another language in its entirety.

Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, a husband and wife team, were able to complete the translation of the text only through the use of the 1890 Wat Ko edition of the epic and the help of U-M Library staff.

“We are pleased the U-M Library is in possession of this rare edition and could assist in the translation of such an important literary work,” said Fe Susan Go, the library’s specialist for Southeast Asia area collections.

“Khun Chang Khun Phaen” is an incomparable classic in Thai language, with two kings among its authors. It is a folk epic that combines social panorama with grand storytelling. It includes a love triangle and a tragic death but also humor, war, and the supernatural. Developed through oral tradition in the 17th century, it was not written down until the 19th century.

The Wat Ko edition, held in the U-M Library, is the world’s only complete 42 small-book set of the Thai classic. The set was bequeathed by the late U-M professor and famed linguist William Gedney. It is believed that Gedney acquired this text in Bangkok in the 1960s. The collection is part of U-M's world-class Southeast Asia library holdings.

Phongpaichit and Baker will explain the history and importance of the text and read from key extracts during their talk sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the University of Michigan Library.

“The Center for Southeast Asian Studies strives to build a vibrant community of scholars at U-M and beyond,” said Allen Hicken, CSEAS director. “The center is committed to bringing Southeast Asian scholars from the region and elsewhere in the world to the university to teach and to access our library resources and research facilities.”

The April 14 discussion will take place at 3:00 p.m. at the Shapiro Library, Room 2160, located at 919 S. University Ave. The workshop, for translators of all types, will begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Area Programs Reference Room 110, located at 920 North University.

For more information about the event, visit www.ii.umich.edu/cseas.

Center for Southeast Asian Studies

The Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Michigan International Institute emerged in the fall of 1999 from the former Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, which was established in 1961. One of the largest programs devoted to this region in the United States, the center seeks to promote a broader and deeper understanding of Southeast Asia, its people, and their cultures. For more information, visit www.ii.umich.edu/cseas.

University of Michigan International Institute

The University of Michigan International Institute houses 18 centers and programs focused on world regions and global themes. The institute develops and supports international teaching, research, and public affairs programs to promote global understanding across the campus and to build connections with intellectuals and institutions worldwide. For more information, visit www.ii.umich.edu.