This Week @ CSEAS

January 31 @ 4pm – 5:30 pm

“The Visual Culture of Criminal Detection in Modern Thailand”

Samson Lim
Assistant Professor of History

Singapore University of Technology and Design

Modern criminal investigation entails the production and use of a range of visualisations, from fingerprints and photographs to maps and diagrams. In this talk, I present an analytical history of these visual practices as they have been deployed in Thailand over the past century. Through an analysis of Thai language sources including police training manuals, trial records, detective fiction, and newspaper reports, I argue that the factuality of the visual evidence used in modern criminal justice systems stem as much from formal rules (e.g. proper lighting in a crime scene photo and standardised markings on maps) as the reality of the things the evidence represents. To help illustrate this, I focus on an investigative technique, the crime scene re-enactment, in which suspects act out their alleged crimes at the location where they are said to have taken place. The demonstrations are recorded and subsequently used as evidence in criminal trials. They also appear regularly on the front pages of a vernacular press saturated with crime news, making policing in Thailand a very public and spectacular ritual.

Samson Lim is an Assistant Professor in History at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, a new university established in collaboration with MIT. He received his Ph.D. in History at Cornell University. His research examines the connections between technology, capitalism, and cultural change. His first book, Siam’s New Detectives: Visualising Crime and Conspiracy in Modern Thailand (University of Hawaii Press, 2016), is a history of the visual culture of policing and conspiracy theories in Thailand. He is currently working on a new book that analyzes the visual and material culture of finance in early twentieth century Bangkok. Samson is also one of the principle leads of the Opportunity Lab at SUTD, an interdisciplinary teaching and research centre that promotes social change through design and engineering projects throughout Southeast Asia.


“Histories that Don’t Fit:
The Chinese ‘South Seas’ and its End in the Twentieth Century”

Shelly Chan
Assistant Professor of History

This talk asks how Chinese diaspora histories across the “South Seas” (Nanyang)—a maritime region connecting East and Southeast Asia from its height in the 1920s to its end in the 1960s—may help advance the understanding of trans-Asia. Two moments serve as the center of this discussion: a surge of Chinese nationalist writings about migrants to Southeast Asia during the 1920-30s, and an influx of migrants “returning” to China from Southeast Asia during the 1950s-60s. Together they demonstrate both the present limits and future directions of the “transnational turn” on twentieth-century Asia: a dominant focus on multiple spaces has eclipsed an attention to multiple times; studies of transnational crossings have tended to be land-based rather than seaward. The rise and demise of the Chinese “South Seas” suggest that diaspora can be better understood as temporal fragments intersecting with other temporalities of human action, sometimes cropping up and ripping through the telos of the nation. These histories that don’t fit in linear narratives, therefore, invite a writing of not only multiple geographies but also of multiple chronologies. They will also contribute to a more dynamic interpretation of trans-Asia.

Shelly Chan is Assistant Professor of History at UW-Madison focusing on transnational and global China and Asia. Her first book, Diaspora’s Homeland: Modern China in the Age of Global Migration, is forthcoming with Duke University Press. Her articles have appeared in The Journal of Asian Studies and The Journal of Chinese Overseas. She is working on a new book project titled “The Chinese South Seas and its End: Cultural Transformation in Modern Maritime Asia.”

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