Learning Burmese, Colonial Style

I have recently begun working my way through a book designed to teach English speakers written Burmese. But unlike the textbooks that I have previously used, this one is a little dated. It was published in 1894 and was written by Richard Fleming St. Andrew St. John, an English Orientalist, colonial official and translator of…

Reading Burmese Animal Tattoos

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about Captain Constantine, an Albanian man whose entire body was covered with Burmese tattoos. When he left Southeast Asia for Europe and then north America in the 1870s he became the object of considerable scientific, medical and anthropological curiosity. Later he toured with the circus of…

Traffic Accidents and Structural Power

Re-reading the colonial judge Maurice Collis’ memoirs, Trials in Burma (1938), got me thinking about the history of traffic accidents. The final case that he discusses—the case that marked the beginning of the end to his career in the colony—hints at how traffic accidents could be understood as an expression of white privilege. The particular…

The Criminal Tribes of Burma

Back in May last year I wrote a blog that speculated on why it was that Criminal Tribes legislation was introduced into colonial Burma so late. The Act was originally enacted in 1871 and was being used in most parts of British India by 1911. But it was not brought to Burma until 1924. The…

Prisoners and Pariah Dogs

Many things have changed in Yangon since I first visited as a wide-eyed PhD student back in 2008, but the city’s street dogs remain a ubiquitous presence. Although, they have had their own share of difficulties since then. In 2013 the city’s authorities were accused of poisoning them in order to beautify the streets in…

Rebellion in Burma, Indian Nationalism and the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Ltd.

This week I visited the London Metropolitan Archives to consult the records of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation, Ltd. From the late-nineteenth century, this company was the biggest and most influential timber company operating out of Burma.  Throughout the colonial period and into the mid-twentieth century, Burma was widely recognised as the world’s principal source…

Fowl Play in Colonial Burma

I’ve been trying to find links between my last research project on the history of corruption and my developing interest in animals, and I think I’ve found one: chickens! Chickens appear in investigations into corruption in late nineteenth-century colonial Burma as bribes. In a case from 1907, a Resident Excise Officer accepted chickens as a…

Amok in Malaya, Murder in Burma

One of the great things about teaching is they way it can raise new research questions. This recently happened on my undergraduate unit in which I teach the history of crime in colonial South and Southeast Asia. We were discussing British representations of amok. This was where in an apparent fit of madness, often said to be brought on by a…

The Albanian with the Burmese Tattoo

In the 1870s there was some discussion in British newspapers and medical journals about Georgious Constantine, or ‘the Tattooed Man from Burmah’, who had appeared in Vienna much to the interest of Europe’s anthropologists. He was covered head-to-toe with elaborate tattoos. Constantine claimed to have been of Greek descent and to have been a pirate…

Picturing Convicts’ Bodies in Colonial Burma

The end of the teaching term last year coincided with the British Library releasing over one million images on their Flickr account. Making the most of this, I immediately began trawling through them to see what images of Burma I could find. Among the many I came across were two contrasting images of convicts. This…

The Wild Wild West of Burma

Last week I attended a fantastic conference that celebrated the career of Prof. Ian Brown, my PhD. supervisor, who has recently retired. In Ian’s closing paper, he made an important reassessment of some assumptions that underpin the history of colonial Burma. He argued that John Furnivall’s influential argument that Burma experienced a uniquely dramatic increase…

Baden-Powell in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum

Sherlock Hare was a British barrister working in colonial Rangoon until he was diagnosed as a criminal lunatic in 1891. He was then deported to England where, after briefly escaping, he was confined in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum for the remainder of his life. I have written about him in more detail in an article,…