CSEAS History

The Center for Southeast Asian Studies was formally established in 1973 as an interdisciplinary program of the College of Letters and Sciences. Formal scholarly interest in Southeast Asia, however, developed in the early 1950s when Wisconsin pioneered cooperation in economics with the University of Indonesia and Gadjah Mada University. Subsequently, the program expanded considerably as scholars with research and teaching experience in the region joined the faculty. In the early 1960s, the University established a combined East and Southeast Asia Program, from which the Center for Southeast Asian Studies emerged as a separate program in 1973.

Since 1981, the Center has been recognized as a National Resource Center by the U.S. Department of Education and has received Title VI funding for program development and Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships. In addition to federal support, the Center’s program has benefited greatly from substantial grants from the Henry Luce Foundation (1988-93) and from a million dollar challenge grant from the Mellon Foundation. In 1996, the Center participated in the establishment of the International Institute and currently collaborates with other area programs in global and comparative research and activities. At present, the Center operates a vigorous and well-developed program committed to the study of Southeast Asia that is recognized as one of the best worldwide.


The program’s vibrant community of core faculty represent fifteen disciplines that include anthropology, business, communications (journalism), education, economics, geography, history, linguistics, literature, performing arts, political science, religious studies, and sociology. Many other University faculty members have research and teaching interests in Southeast Asia and regularly work with students in a wide variety of fields, including environmental, development, and policy studies, natural resources, and law.

Academic Programs

More than 120 undergraduate and graduate students specializing on Southeast Asia are enrolled in various departments and institutes throughout the University. The Center administers two major degree programs: BA in Asian Studies (Southeast Asian Concentration) and MA in Southeast Asian Studies (see Academic and Degree Programs), as well as offering an Undergraduate Certificate, a Graduate Certificate, and a PhD minor in Southeast Asian Studies.

Some fifty courses with significant Southeast Asia content are offered in various departments and colleges each academic year (see Southeast Asia Course Offerings). Regular instruction is offered through the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia in five Southeast Asian languages: Filipino/Tagalog, Hmong, Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese. In addition, the Center is actively involved in the advanced language training program for Indonesian held in Southeast Asia during the summers and hosts the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI)every summer. Faculty and student research are supported by extensive library holdings, with particular strengths on Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, including a separate Southeast Asian Video Archive and other special collections (see Resources for Study and Research).


The Center offers two varieties of fellowship support for graduate students: Foreign Language and Area Studies awards (FLAS, funded by the Center’s Title VI grant) and Center Fellowships (see Financial Aid). Considerable emphasis is placed on study abroad and field research in Southeast Asia. All graduate students are encouraged and assisted in their efforts to conduct field research in the region, and many are successful in the national competition for dissertation research grants. Numerous undergraduate study abroad opportunities in Southeast Asia are administered through The International Division’s Study Abroad Office.  In 1998, the Center also inaugurated a graduate student study abroad program in collaboration with Thammasat University in Bangkok (see Study Abroad). To encourage interaction with Southeast Asian scholars and to enrich the on-campus program, visiting faculty from the region are regularly invited. In recent years scholars from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Australia, China and Spain have been in residence for varying periods of time.

Through language training and related area studies education, Southeast Asian studies at Wisconsin has contributed to the nation’s wealth of foreign area expertise. Since 1980 more than sixty Ph.D. and over a hundred M.A. degrees have been awarded to students conducting research on Southeast Asia. Employment opportunities for these graduates have varied, with roughly half of the Ph.D. degree holders having found academic teaching positions in the United States or abroad and many others securing careers in administration or research with private, government, or international organizations. The Center remains committed to its goal of assisting talented and deserving students in gaining the education needed for scholarly and professional careers in Southeast Asian studies.