For the 2020’s Judith Becker award, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) is delighted to celebrate the research of Htet Thiha Zaw and Chanon Kenji Praepipatmongkol, who co-won this prize for their exemplary graduate papers. The winning papers highlight research on Konbaung-era Burma, archival work, bio-kinetic sculpture in London, and the repercussions of art and violence in Southeast Asia into the late modern era and present day.

Thiha’s “Pre-Colonial Origins of Colonial Coercion: Evidence from British Burma” rethinks the conversations scholars of Myanmar have on colonialism, and the ways British-colonized Burma and the successive postcolonial state relied on earlier patterns of coercion and development. A PhD candidate of political science, Thiha conducts copious research of militarized police stations, of relationships between villages and the Konbaung Dynasty, suggesting resilient continuities past and present. Thiha would contend that Burmese societies that were brought under control by the indigenous state before colonization received less coercion under colonial rule, and the resulting patterns continued after independence. He expresses his thanks to Drs. Mark Dincecco and Victor Lieberman for their extensive support, recommendations, and expertise. Ultimately, he sees his paper as one more step towards his dissertation, which examines how monastic education systems in British Burma were replaced with British-style, missionary or state-sponsored education. Thiha seeks to map this change with the archival discipline of a historian and the big-data precision of a political scientist. We congratulate his success and look forward to his future work!

Meanwhile, Kenji’s “David Medalla: Dreams of Sculpture” explores the life and work of the eponymous post-war Filipino artist, whose sculptures took London by a storm in the 1960s. A pioneer of kinetic art and a philosopher of futurisms for the Third World, Medalla imagined new forms of relationship with technology that would feel intimate and profoundly connective, even soulful. Kenji’s work documents precisely this re-enchantment. Art historian and U-M professor Joan Kee recommended his paper for the Judith Becker award. Kenji, an art history PhD graduate, looks towards bold projects that see connections throughout the developing world, including artists from Southeast Asia and the Latin American world. While we’re proud to call Kenji part of the CSEAS community, we’re equally proud to acknowledge and celebrate his true interdisciplinary work as an art historian who crosses regions and borders. If anything, this is the heart of what we at the International Institute seek to encourage, and CSEAS is delighted to celebrate both scholars as they pursue their goals in the coming years. 

The Judith Becker Award for Outstanding Graduate Research on Southeast Asia is awarded each year and carries a $1,000 cash prize administered by CSEAS. CSEAS held a celebration in Professor Becker's honor, on the occasion of her retirement in 2008.