An Ivory Tower in the Street: my journey into history for the better future
Friday, September 15, 2023 | 18:30-20:30 (JST)
International Conference Hall, Acros Fukuoka
KOIZUMI Junko(Professor, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University)
SHIMIZU Hiromu(Specially Appointed Professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Kansai University)

Part 1 Keynote Speech

Championing Democracy and Social Justice through New Perspectives on the History of Thailand

Professor Thongchai has had an enormous influence on the humanities and social sciences worldwide through his research on history. He has devoted a great deal of energy to activities to link his research to the real world the belief that “knowledge that suggests a better future always emerges among the masses.” In his keynote speech, he talked about his own journey toward the development of democracy and civil society in Thailand. He also proposed approaches for a future based on new historical perspectives.

Born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, Professor Thongchai doubted the appropriateness of the oppressive educational system in place when he was a student under the military regime. The student-led uprising in 1973 contributed to the collapse of the military regime, which had lasted for nearly 20 years. Subsequently, Professor Thongchai entered Thammasat University and became a leader of the student movement. Triggered by the democratic revolution and amid increasingly heated disputes in various areas, including labor and education, tragedy struck. In 1976, nearly 50 people were massacred during an on-campus protest rally against the restoration of military rule. Professor Thongchai was arrested as a leader of the rally and spent two years in prison. Believing that to change society he needed to better understand society, he started pursuing an academic career. Since then, as a university professor, he has been committed to educating the younger generations. In his keynote speech, his words were filled with a strong underlying sentiment: “There has never been a day during where I have forgotten the victims of the massacre.”

After talking about his journey, Professor Thongchai shared his views on the problems with centralism in Thailand. He pointed out that history education must not be driven by ideology, as is commonplace in elitist- or military-dominated regimes. He confided that he had taken up the challenge of writing Siam Mapped—a book that reconsiders Thai history— to emphasize that history always comprises multiple paths, and it is important to look into it from multiple perspectives.

Professor Thongchai then shifted the focus of his speech to present-day Thailand, describing the current state of affairs where high school students are becoming increasingly active in student movements, as well as sharing the opinions of student who have participated in the demonstrations. He stated, “History is the seed of the future,” suggesting it is possible to carve new paths by reviewing history. He expressed his determination to continue to take up challenges in order to create a better future.


Part 2 Discussion

In Order to Tell True Stories

To kick off the forum, coordinator Professor Shimizu Hiromu mentioned the results of the general election held in Thailand in May 2023, reporting that currently the momentum for democracy was increasing. He commented, “The books and messages of Professor Thongchai have significantly influenced young people who are playing a central role in social movements.” Then, Professor Koizumi Junko, a scholar in Thai studies, introduced the achievements of Professor Thongchai focusing mainly on his book Siam Mapped. She explained the Thai historian’s novel idea that Thailand as a modern nation was born through mapping technology.

In the discussion, Professor Koizumi asked Professor Thongchai about his student days and research. He responded by talking about what had made him become involved in the student movement, the massacre that occurred at his university, and how he had come to desire to understand society from the perspective of history and get involved in Thailand as a whole. He also mentioned the his academic process of tackling the challenge of establishing new history through trial and error, the beauty of maps which moved him during his research process, and his purpose of writing Siam Mapped—to tell true stories. With a smile, he also mentioned an encouraging reaction from one of his young Thai readers, who had said to him, “Your books have enabled me to view the past from a different perspective. I suppose my way of viewing the future will also change.” 

The discussion never fell short of topics to discuss, with the audience asking about the role of Thailand in Southeast Asia and problems with the Thai legal system. The discussion revealed Professor Thongchai’s enthusiasm for responding sincerely to all questions.


Interlocutor: KOIZUMI Junko
Coordinator: SHIMIZU Hiromu
Panel discussion