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History

  • October 13, 1903

    One hundred pensionados, Filipino students on scholarship from the Philippine Commission government, leave Manila to be educated at American universities before returning home. In 1904, a small contingent comes to DeKalb to study teaching at the Northern Illinois State Normal School (later Northern Illinois University). The pensionados fully engage in student and community activities, becoming cultural ambassadors for the Philippines in the process and establishing the campus’s first link to Southeast Asia. The program ran until 1910.

    Normal School President John Williston Cook sees off pensionado Santiago Bautista at the DeKalb train station (NIU archives)
    Normal School President John Williston Cook sees off pensionado Santiago Bautista at the DeKalb train station (NIU archives)
  • 1960

    NIU offers its first summer institute on Asian civilizations, an eight-week program directed primarily to elementary and secondary schoolteachers to “provide basic knowledge as well as the means to further study of the major civilizations of Asia,” including Southeast Asia. Seventy-six people sign up, almost double the number expected; sixty-nine participants complete the program for credit. Said one participant, a 37-year-old college instructor from Wisconsin, about the program, “I had a feeling that as a nation we were so hopelessly backward and uninformed that we might never be able to bridge the cultural gap between east and west, but Dr. [J. Norman] Parmer and the young guest lecturers have given me renewed hope that we can do it, and I’m even flattering myself that I can help.”

  • March 1, 1961

    The Peace Corps is established by President John F. Kennedy and NIU becomes an early advocate for the innovative volunteer program. With the support of pre-eminent Malaya historian J. Norman Parmer, the university establishes one of the country’s earliest and largest training programs for Corps members serving in Malaya (now Malaysia) in October 1961. In a letter making NIU’s case to the Peace Corps office in Washington, D.C., Parmer noted that NIU’s size (8,000 students at that time) would allow Peace Corps volunteers to have a bigger impact on campus. “If one of the aims of the Peace Corps is to evoke a sense of mission and personal commitment among its Volunteers and also among the American people, the prospects of success are much better at an institution such as ours,” Parmer wrote. “We are not so large, so old, so conservative, so compartmentalized, or so thoroughly committed to widely different kinds of operations. There are fewer distractions here.” The NIU program ends in 1968 when the Peace Corps transfers its Asia training programs to the University of Hawaii and to host countries.

    Sadie Stout of Arkansas City, Kansas, who in 1962 was among the first group of Peace Corps volunteers who learned Malay at NIU, works with young patients at Sungei Buloh Leprosarium in Malaysia following her training. (NIU archives)
    Sadie Stout of Arkansas City, Kansas, who in 1962 was among the first group of Peace Corps volunteers who learned Malay at NIU, works with young patients at Sungei Buloh Leprosarium in Malaysia following her training. (NIU archives)
  • March 5, 1963

    The State of Illinois Board of Higher Education approves a Southeast Asian interdisciplinary program within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, under the leadership of historian J. Norman Parmer and political scientist Daniel Wit; the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and Training (later dubbed the Center for Southeast Asian Studies) is born. The program is an outgrowth of a 1961 initiative by NIU President Leslie A. Holmes to expand the university’s connections to Southeast Asia. These connections began after the end of World War II and led to the hiring of Southeast Asia expertise in the 1950s. By 1963, Parmer, Wit and M. Ladd Thomas are the acknowledged Southeast Asia faculty experts on campus. NIU offers 27 courses related to Southeast Asia at this time. With the establishment of the Center, Wit and Parmer serve as co-directors and Thomas as coordinator. A Southeast Asia Collection is also established at the Swen Parson Library at this time. Lee Dutton Jr. is later appointed NIU’s first Southeast Asia librarian.

  • September 1, 1963

    Professor M. Ladd Thomas (Political Science) is formally appointed CSEAS coordinator, reporting directly to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Thomas serves until 1971. At that time CSEAS shares quarters with the Peace Corps training program in a small white house on College Street near Carroll Avenue. The Center moves to East Watson Hall after NIU made plans to construct Founders Memorial Library and the MLK Commons in that area.

  • 1967

    The Southeast Asia Club is founded as a CSEAS student activity. The club begins with informal meetings for students interested in Southeast Asia, but quickly expands to include social and academic events, such as a film series, panel discussions, guest lecturers, and even cultural awareness sessions for students facing military service in Vietnam. The club currently sponsors spring and fall Southeast Asia culture nights featuring student performers and an annual student Southeast Asian studies conference.

  • 1968

    NIU offers its first Southeast Asian language course, Indonesian, taught by David De Queljoe, followed two years later by Thai in 1970, taught by David Dellinger.

  • 1969

    CSEAS’s publications unit, Southeast Asia Publications (SEAP), releases its first work, the first in a Special Reports series. In the foreword to the report, “Monks, Merit and Motivation” by Center associate J. A. Niels Mulder (then assistant sociology professor at NIU), CSEAS Coordinator M. Ladd Thomas writes: “The series is intended to provide a means whereby the results of preliminary research on Southeast Asia can be widely disseminated as quickly as possible. Such will ensure that these tentative findings are made available to interested scholars elsewhere, even though further research and analyses remain to be done on the topics.” In 1974, the series is combined with SEAP’s Occasional Papers series under the title Monographs on Southeast Asia. SEAP’s publishing activities grow to include the publication of a biannual journal, two innovative Burmese and Vietnamese language text series and a longer monograph series.

  • 1970

    The Inter-institutional Council on Asian Studies in Illinois is established to increase cooperation and state-wide sharing of resources between CSEAS, the Center for Asian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Center for Vietnamese Studies at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, with the goal of minimizing overlap in language and area studies. The council provides several grants to CSEAS to support Southeast Asian studies. At this time, CSEAS’s primary focus is Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Also this year, political science professors Ladd Thomas and Clark Neher, and International Programs director Daniel Wit, are subject in early May to accusations by anti-war activists of assisting in government actions in Vietnam; the Center’s office on the lower floor of East Watson Hall sustains minor damage after being firebombed on May 5 during anti-war riots on campus. The office is later relocated to the 10th floor of Zulauf.

  • 1971

    Professor Donn V. Hart joins the Anthropology department and is appointed Center director, serving until 1981. Under Hart’s direction, NIU’s Southeast Asia Collection acquires a wealth of materials and moves from its original home in Swen Parson Library to its current home in Founders Memorial Library. After Hart’s death in 1983, the collection is renamed the Donn V. Hart Southeast Asia Collection in 1985 in honor of his contributions to Southeast Asian studies at NIU, including time as director of NIU’s Anthropology Museum. At the dedication of the Hart Collection, guest speaker University of Michigan archeologist Karl Hutterer describes Hart as the “quintessential anthropologist: a scholar of great knowledge, rare commitment, and complete honesty, and a man with deep personal affection for the peoples with whom he worked.”

  • 1972

    The Council on Thai Studies (COTS) is organized by NIU faculty to assemble Midwest scholars specializing in Thai studies at an annual conference. NIU faculty and students actively participate in COTS, which still hosts an annual conference at Centers for Southeast Asian Studies around the Midwest. Also this year, CSEAS associates volunteer time to create and teach a nine-week mini-course on Southeast Asia at DeKalb High School. On October 26, 1972, a delegation of government officials, party leaders, legislators and editorial writers representing 13 Asian countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, tours the U.S. to observe the November election contest between incumbent Republican Richard Nixon and Democratic challenger George McGovern. One of their eight stops is DeKalb, chosen because of the Center’s prominence and the area’s rural perspective. While in DeKalb, the visitors and their U.S. State Department escorts cast “ballots” for the two candidates. It’s nearly a split decision with seven votes going to McGovern and six to Nixon, who wins the actual contest.

  • 1973

    Malaysia begins sending a large contingent of undergraduate and graduate students to NIU to study, helping spur the activities of the Southeast Asia Club and international student club activities on campus. NIU continues to offer Thai and Indonesian language courses despite campus-wide budget tightening and reluctance to maintain courses (such as these) with comparatively low enrollment. NIU administrators continue to allocate funding to CSEAS and to Southeast Asian Studies.

  • 1974

    CSEAS begins fostering its relationships within and recognition throughout Southeast Asia by developing exchange programs with the University of Chiang Mai in Thailand and Mindanao State University in the Philippines. Later in the year, the Center receives funding from the U.S. Department of Education to begin awarding Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships to encourage the study of Southeast Asian languages and area studies. The Center awards one fellowship, which provided a tuition waiver and a monthly stipend, to one graduate student in the 1974–75 academic year. Since then, CSEAS has awarded 303 academic-year and summer FLAS fellowships to graduate and undergraduate students.

  • October 9, 1974

    CSEAS launches an informal “brownbag” lecture series. The Friday lunchtime lectures initially consist of monthly reports from CSEAS associates on their research projects, with Center Director Donn V. Hart giving the first report, “The Images of the Catholic Priest in Bisayan Filipino Folk Tales,” an analysis of folk tales collected in the Philippines. The series has grown to include outside lecturers as well as NIU faculty and graduate student speakers.

  • 1976

    In fall 1976, CSEAS offers its interdisciplinary Southeast Asia course, Southeast Asia: Crossroads of the World (ILAS 225), for the first time. The course features lectures by CSEAS associates on a broad range of topics, offering a survey of the region’s uniqueness and cultural diversity. It is an opportunity to recruit students to minor in Southeast Asian Studies and future graduate students specializing in Southeast Asia. An accompanying text, Southeast Asia: Crossroads of the World, written by political scientist and CSEAS associate Clark Neher and published in 2000, eventually becomes the best-selling title offered by the Center’s Southeast Asia Publications.

  • 1977

    Anthropologist Margaret Mead visits NIU on Nov. 11 to officially open the NIU Anthropology Museum in Stevens Hall. From the museum’s early beginnings in 1967, artifacts from Southeast Asia, many gleaned from faculty research and travels in the region, have comprised more than half of the museum’s holdings. In 2012, the museum was relocated to new quarters in Fay-Cooper Cole Hall.

  • 1978

    Through the efforts of world music professor and CSEAS associate Kuo-Huang Han, NIU acquires a Balinese gamelan set. Before the instruments arrive, students learn Balinese pieces on tone bells. In 1979, NIU gamelan students have the rare opportunity to be the first ensemble to play on a newly restored gamelan in the Field Museum of Natural History’s collection. This set was first used in Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition, where many Western fairgoers heard gamelan music for the first time. Gamelan courses continue to be offered at NIU, and draw students interested in music and Southeast Asia.

  • 1981

    CSEAS associate Ronald Provencher (Anthropology) is appointed Center director and serves until 1986. During his tenure, the Center expands its publications program with a new peer-reviewed journal, assists in laying the groundwork for computer-aided Southeast Asia language instruction, and hosts the first Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI).

  • 1983

    Scholars from around the world are invited to contribute to the Center’s new peer-reviewed journal, Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, and later, in 1997, The Journal of Burma Studies (JBS), a peer-reviewed journal published by the Center for Burma Studies in cooperation with CSEAS. Crossroads ceases publication with volume 19.2 in 2008. The journal is now available online through the scholarly digital archive, JSTOR. The Center for Burma Studies still publishes JBS.

  • July 15, 1983

    CSEAS associates John Hartmann (Foreign Languages and Literatures), George Henry (Computer Science) and Patricia Henry (Foreign Languages and Literatures) acquire the first grant ($151,299) of several grants they would eventually receive from the National Security Agency for their Foreign Language Instruction Station, a method of “Computer-Aided Instruction for Indonesian and Thai Language.” This later becomes the center’s SEAsite, a unique online interactive resource for studying Southeast Asia languages, literatures and cultures.

  • 1985

    The NIU library’s Southeast Asia Collection is renamed the Donn V. Hart Southeast Asia Collection, after former CSEAS director Donn V. Hart (1918–1983). As director, Hart, an anthropologist specializing in the Philippines, focused much of his energy on developing a strong collection of Southeast Asian materials at NIU. His efforts were succeeded by those of collection curators Carol Mitchell, May Kyi Win, Gregory Green and Hao Phan. Today the collection is one of the best of its kind in the country, including more than 70,000 books, periodicals, microform, pamphlets, manuscripts and videos in a variety of Southeast Asian and other languages.

  • 1986

    Over the summer, NIU hosts the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI), an eight-week intensive language training program offering instruction at all levels in Burmese, Indonesian, Thai, Hmong, Javanese, Khmer, Lao, Tagalog and Vietnamese. Program activities for the 173 students from twenty-three states and seven countries include a film series, poetry readings, international cuisine, and a student conference. Participating CSEAS associates include John Hartmann, Patricia Henry and Richard Cooler. Current CSEAS Director Judy Ledgerwood is then a student. SEASSI, which is sponsored by a consortium of Southeast Asian Studies programs in the U.S., moves to the University of Hawaii in 1988 and currently takes place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

  • July 29, 1987

    NIU’s Center for Burma Studies opens with an inauguration ceremony featuring recitations by a Burmese monk and a presentation of academic papers on the topic of Burma. NIU has been chosen by the Burma Studies Group of the Association for Asian Studies to be the location of a national center for Burma studies. Its first director is NIU art historian and CSEAS associate Richard Cooler. The only such center in the U.S., the Center for Burma Studies serves students and faculty specializing in Burma studies with an extensive library collection and a wealth of material acquisitions.

  • August 1, 1987

    During the summer, Center offices move from 1015 Zulauf Hall to 140 Carroll Avenue, occupying the top floor of what was once an apartment building. CSEAS associate Constance Wilson (History), who has been serving as acting Center director since 1986, returns to her department. Historian Michael Aung-Thwin, then teaching at Elmira University, is recruited to come to NIU as Center director in August and serves until 1995. At this time, the directorship becomes a full-time administrative position with rank and department tenure within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Soon after his arrival, Aung-Thwin launches the center’s Mandala newsletter and hires CSEAS associate Grant Olson (Foreign Languages and Literatures) to be the first editor of the Center’s increasingly active publications program.

  • 1988

    CSEAS celebrates its 25th anniversary year during the Oct. 14–16 International Burma Studies/Council on Thai Studies conference; Cornell University historian Benedict Anderson gives the keynote address and J. Norman Parmer, M. Ladd Thomas and Daniel Wit offer their remembrances of the center’s early days in the 1960s. The Center also receives a $572,000 grant, the first of several generous grants from the Henry Luce Foundation to fill new positions, award stipends to graduate students, adapt the Foreign Language Instruction Station to IBM systems, and to develop an advanced Thai study abroad program as well as four specific outreach programs.

  • 1989

    NIU begins offering language classes in beginning and intermediate Burmese, with CSEAS associate U Saw Tun as instructor. The Luce Foundation funds the development of a comprehensive Burmese language text series, to be written by John Okell of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and eventually published by Southeast Asia Publications. The four-volume Okell series, a SEAP bestseller now published by NIU Press since 2009, remains the pre-eminent Burmese language text. U Saw Tun retired in 2010.

  • 1993

    CSEAS offices move from 140 Carroll Avenue to the fourth floor of Adams Hall (412 Adams), sharing a floor and conference room with the Center for Burma Studies and the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies. The core strength of CSEAS at this time, in terms of faculty and resources, is Thailand, followed by Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

  • August 16, 1996

    CSEAS associate Clark D. Neher (Political Science) is appointed director in August and serves until June 30, 1999, succeeding Ronald Provencher (Anthropology) who had been serving as acting director since 1995. In 1998, during a trip to Southeast Asia, Clark and his wife Arlene, director of NIU External Programming, visit Burma and find their way to the Yangon home where opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi lives under house arrest. The Nehers, who knew Suu Kyi’s husband and had met her son when he was a student at NIU, were invited to meet with the Nobel Peace Prize winner after Clark sent a note through an intermediary requesting a brief meeting with her. He later told the NIU press office about meeting Suu Kyi, “Nothing could have prepared me. The experience was transforming.”

  • 1997

    Under Clark D. Neher’s direction, CSEAS successfully applies for a highly competitive U.S. Department of Education Title VI Undergraduate National Resource Center grant and is officially designated an undergraduate National Resource Center (NRC). NRC grants are given based in part upon a center’s ability to serve student needs, partner with high schools and colleges for teacher training, develop universally accessible Web-based language instruction, collaborate with universities abroad, and publish quality scholarly works. CSEAS is currently one of seven NRCs for Southeast Asian Studies in the U.S.

  • 1998

    NIU expands its Southeast Asia language offerings, adding Tagalog to its Burmese, Indonesian and Thai courses, continuing to build up its academic efforts into the Philippines begun under Donn V. Hart.

  • June 13, 1999

    CSEAS hosts a weeklong Southeast Asia Camp for middle and high school students and teachers. Sponsored in cooperation with the U. S. National Security Education Program, the camp teaches basic language skills, culture and history of Southeast Asia.

  • June 30, 1999

    CSEAS associate Susan Russell (Anthropology) is appointed Center director and serves until July 1, 2005. During her tenure, NIU adds Khmer to its Southeast Asia language offerings, CSEAS advances its standing as a National Resource Center for Southeast Asian Studies and successfully applies for federal funding to bring native language speakers Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTA) to assist in Southeast Asia language classes, and facilitates the first international Ramayana conference at NIU.

  • May 2001

    CSEAS associate Dwight King (Political Science) participates in an election observation project in East Timor conducted by The Carter Center, preceded in August 1999 by associate and fellow Indonesian expert Andrea Molnar (Anthropology). King and other observers are deployed to assess the political environment as the new Southeast Asian nation of East Timor (Timor Leste) transitions to independence in 2002.

  • September 21, 2001

    The Center partners with the International Ramayana Institute of North America (IRINA), a Chicago non-profit organization, to present the 1st International Ramayana Conference with funding from the Illinois Humanities Council. Planned before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the U.S., the conference is almost cancelled. The conference features presentations by experts, teacher workshops and performances and culminates in Ramayana-related Indian, Indonesian and Thai dance workshops. Since 2001, the Ramayana conference has been held three times at NIU, most recently in 2010.

  • February 23, 2002

    CSEAS associate May Kyi Win, associate professor and curator of the Donn V. Hart Southeast Asia Collection, the only Burmese-born curator in the U.S., dies at age 54. Win’s knowledge of the languages and literatures of the region contributed greatly to the improvement of the Southeast Asia and Burmese collections. In the words of former Center for Burma Studies Director Richard Cooler: “The library that she so loved will never be the same without her expert assistance, warm presence and charitable spirit.” A book about her work, “Daw May Kyi Win and the Burmese Bibliographical Collection at Northern Illinois University: Homage to a Southeast Asian Librarian,” is later published in 2004. In 2005, the International Burma Studies Conference meeting at NIU honors Win with a special tribute panel and exhibit of selected Burmese materials from the collection.

  • 2003

    CSEAS Director Susan Russell receives a U.S. Department of State grant to establish the Philippine Youth Leadership Program (ACCESS Philippines) at NIU. The program, led by Russell and CSEAS associate and International Training Office Director Lina Davide-Ong, brings students from the troubled Filipino province of Mindanao to NIU with the goal of developing a sense of civic responsibility, commitment to community development, and tolerance among Mindanao youth from a variety of ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds. Since 2003, Russell and Ong have led nine sessions of PYLP.

  • May 17, 2002

    The Clark D. and Arlene B. Neher Endowment for Southeast Asian Studies is established by former CSEAS director Clark D. Neher (political science) and Arlene Neher, former director of NIU External Programming. The fund provides for an annual fellowship to a student pursuing a graduate degree with a concentration in Southeast Asia. Eleven NIU graduate students have received the Neher fellowship.

  • 2005

    The U.S. Department of Education awards a four-year$780,000 grant to a consortium of institutions around the world to create the Southeast Asia Digital Library (SEADL), which is housed and maintained by NIU Libraries. SEADL is co-directed by Drew VandeCreek, director of Digital Initiatives at NIU, and CSEAS associate Hao Phan, curator for the Donn V. Hart Southeast Asia Collection. The project makes available resources ranging from TV shows and interviews to rare manuscripts, artwork and more. The digital library project received a second four-year grant in 2009, which was later reduced to two years of funding due to federal budget cuts.

  • May 20–22, 2005

    CSEAS hosts the first International Lao Studies Conference at NIU, building on the momentum of a Lao History Symposium held at the University of California-Berkeley in 2003. The conference draws more than 350 registrants from five continents and fifteen countries.

  • July 1, 2006

    CSEAS Dwight King (Political Science) is appointed CSEAS director and serves until June 30, 2008. CSEAS associate Kheang Un (Political Science) is appointed assistant director.

  • 2006

    Over the summer, CSEAS offices move from Adams Hall to its current location at Pottenger House, 520 College View Court. Open houses, picnics and other events are often held on the lawn and driveway. CSEAS shares the location with the Center for the Burma Studies.

  • August 16, 2008

    Linguist James T. Collins is recruited from the National University of Malaysia and appointed CSEAS director, serving until January 31, 2012. During Collins’ tenure, NIU renews its focus on Malay, the first Southeast Asian language taught at NIU as part of the Peace Corps training program for Malaya volunteers in the early 1960s. In 2009, the center receives federal funding to develop a multimedia Malay-English dictionary and in 2010, Malay is added to NIU’s Southeast Asia language offerings, making NIU the only U.S. institution to offer six of the seven major Southeast Asia languages, excluding Vietnamese—Burmese, Indonesian, Khmer, Malay, Tagalog and Thai. Through Center efforts, NIU also establishes new ties with universities in Malaysia and Indonesia.

  • 2009

    CSEAS receives a three-year U.S. State Department grant to establish the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Program (SEAYLP), a 25-day program to bring high school students from Southeast Asia to NIU to learn about cooperative leadership, diplomacy, civic action, waterway ecology and American culture. SEAYLP participants live with host families while at NIU and spend a week in Washington, D.C., at the end of the program. Ten of the eleven Southeast Asian nations—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam—participate in the program.

  • January 2010

    Southeast Asia Publications ceases operation, one year after the publication of its last monograph, Contemporary Lao Studies: Research on Development, Language and Culture, and Traditional Medicine, in 2009. In its nearly 50-year history, SEAP publishes more than 70 scholarly books and language texts, along with a biannual journal (Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies) and the Journal of Burma Studies (for the Center for Burma Studies). In cooperation with the Center, NIU Press launches a new Southeast Asia series and assumes publication of the Center’s successful Burmese and Vietnamese language series. Three books in the series have been published to date: Tagalog Verb Dictionary (2011), Wives, Slaves and Concubines: A History of the Female Underclass in Dutch Asia (2010) and Meaningful Tone: A Study of Tonal Morphology in Compounds, Form Classes, and Expressive Phrases in White Hmong (2010).

  • February 1, 2012

    CSEAS associate Trude Jacobsen (History) is named interim CSEAS director, serving until July 31, 2012, when she returns to the position of assistant director.

  • August 1, 2012

    CSEAS associate Judy Ledgerwood (anthropology) is appointed CSEAS director. Ledgerwood, a Cambodia specialist whose first visit to NIU was as a participant in the first Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI) in 1986, joined the NIU faculty in 1996.