Historian George Dutton discusses UCLA's Interdepartmental Degree Program (IDP) in Southeast Asian Studies.
George Dutton, assistant professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, was named chair of the UCLA Southeast Asian Studies Interdepartmental Degreee Program (IDP), by International Institute Vice-Provost Geoffrey Garrett, retroactive to July 1, 2004. The Southeast Asian Studies IDP is an interdisciplinary undergraduate program that offers students both a minor and bachelor's degree. The IDP was founded in 2001, making it the first of its kind in Southern California.
Dutton received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Washington, where he specialized in Vietnamese and Chinese history. Dutton's research and teaching interests are Vietnamese intellectual and social history, precolonial Vietnamese literature, and eighteenth through twentieth century Vietnamese historiography. He has taught courses on Southeast Asian religions, Vietnamese history, and an introduction to Southeast Asian Studies. He is also the coordinator for the General Education Cluster on Politics, Society, and Urban Culture in East Asia.
The Southeast Asian Studies IDP
The region known as Southeast Asia encompasses the modern states of Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, and East Timor (the world's newest country). The IDP approaches Southeast Asia as a region with deep local particularities and transregional ties. Historically, the people of Southeast Asia have been engaged with each other as well as with India and China, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas, and within global contexts of economics, politics, migration, and communications. The region is characterized by great religious diversity, having been significantly influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Currently, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world.
Although still small compared to more established IDPs such as International Development Studies, Southeast Asian Studies is a dynamic program and has grown steadily since its inception in 2001. This year alone, the number of students in the program has more than doubled from the previous year. "There is a considerable degree of enthusiasm from students in the Southeast Asian IDP courses," says Dutton. The popularity of Southeast Asian Studies courses is evidenced by the substantial number of students enrolled in the courses from a diverse range of disciplines. According to the director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Geoffrey Robinson, UCLA has among the highest annual enrollment numbers in the nation for courses with Southeast Asian content.
The IDP structure gives students the flexibility to choose classes from a variety of disciplines to fulfill their requirements. These departments include Ethnomusicology, Anthropology, Theatre, History, World Arts and Cultures, and Political Science. According to Dutton, the flexibility of course selection allows students to "get a wide range of exposure to various disciplines and learn to think critically from those perspectives." Students can focus on subjects and themes such as gender, religion, or economics and develop a larger, more critical perspective, using Southeast Asia as a basis for comparison with other parts of the world. In Dutton's view, the program "allows students to get a good grounding in a specific part of the world and use various methodological tools to analyze it."
The program requires students to demonstrate proficiency in at least one Southeast Asian language. They can do so by passing a proficiency test or by taking courses in one of the four regional languages offered at UCLA: Vietnamese, Tagalog, Thai, or Indonesian. For the minor, students need to achieve an elementary level of proficiency; while for the major students need to reach the intermediate level.
Although it is not a requirement of the major, Dutton emphasizes that one of the key goals of the Southeast Asian Studies IDP is to encourage students to study in the region. They can do so through one of the UC Education Abroad Programs (EAP), currently offered in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore, or through other approved study programs. EAP and other programs offer students rare first-hand knowledge and experience of a fascinating part of the world. Courses taken through EAP can also be applied towards their major.
Early Vietnamese History -- Unexplored Terrain
Dutton's parents were instrumental in sparking his interest in the region of Southeast Asia. During the Vietnam War, they were active in the antiwar movement. "My earliest memories as a child were protesting the war," said Dutton. As an undergraduate at Brown University, he decided to study abroad in Singapore with the encouragement of his study-abroad advisor, who specialized in Southeast Asia. He spent an entire year in Singapore, which gave him opportunities to travel around the region. Dutton was fortunate to be able to travel to Vietnam at a time when it was very difficult, due to government restrictions.
After graduating from college Dutton worked as an intern at the Asia Resource Center in Washington D.C. and was able to take annual trips to Vietnam. His mounting interest in Vietnam led him to pursue a Ph.D. in History with a focus on Vietnamese history. Dutton says that he chose to study early Vietnamese history, in part, because "few choose to study Vietnamese history; it is an unexplored terrain. It is exciting as a field yet daunting in the size and task of its research possibilities."
Dutton's doctoral dissertation is entitled "The Tay Son Uprising: Society and Rebellion in Late Eighteenth-Century Viet Nam, 1771-1802." This work, he says, "focuses on the responses of various segments of Vietnamese society to the events of a thirty-year period of political and social turmoil." Since completing his dissertation, Dutton has turned his attention to other questions, though he has maintained his interest in early Vietnam. For example, he has begun work on a biography of Philiphe Binh (1756-1833), a Vietnamese Jesuit who lived in Lisbon, Portugal for nearly 40 years in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Dutton believes there are many fascinating Vietnamese writings from the eighteenth century and earlier periods that should be made available in translation. In the coming years, he hopes to work on translations of these writings, building upon the base of materials he translated during his research on the Tay Son period.
Goals for the Southeast Asian Studies Program
In his new role as chair of the Southeast Asian Studies program, Dutton hopes to work with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies to expand the number of UCLA faculty in the field. The first priority, he says, is to hire another historian of Southeast Asia to replace Professor Anthony Reid, who left UCLA a few years ago. Dutton also plans to expand the Southeast Asia degree program and to expose the IDP to more students. As part of that effort, he plans on making himself accessible to students wishing to talk to him about the Southeast Asian Studies IDP.
According to Dutton, the Southeast Asian Studies faculty and staff at UCLA are extremely collegial, supportive, and committed to the field, and with their help it will be possible to accomplish all of these goals. And he is optimistic that the IDP will continue to grow because, "it is a training ground to teach students to be an engaged citizen of the world."