New Guest Researcher, Preedee Hongsaton

Preedee will be a guest researcher at the Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies between September and December 2021. He is researching on the topic “The Politics of Siam-Scandinavia relations through King Chulalongkorn’s trip to Europe, 1897”

Preedee Hongsaton has been at the Department of History at Thammasat University, Thailand. He is interested in Theravada Buddhist South and Southeast Asia during the colonial time. His recent publications include "The Silver Guardian Demon of the Jungle: Modern Buddhism and the Suppression of the Shan Rebellion in Thailand, 1900s-1920s” (2017) and Siamese Public Fair: Cultural Politics and the Contestation of Publicness (2019) [in Thai]. His History of Scandinavia (2021) is among the first history books of the region in the Thai language. His interest in the ideas of the Subaltern Studies Collective is shown in his translation of Ranajit Guha’s Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (1983) into Thai.

The history of relationships between Siam (Thailand) and Scandinavia seems to remain much in mystery. A handful of historical research on the topic emphasise friendships between monarchies between the two regions. They focus on the aspect of exchange and details of the exchange. The relationships were based, according to one of the major books on the topic, “out of  a desire to assist in the balanced growth of [Thailand]...In return, many Thais, from kings to commoners, have travelled to Scandinavia to be received as honoured and welcomed guests”. This view has dominated the study on this topic, and I propose to reevaluate this view by taking a close look at the trip by King Chulalongkorn of Siam (r.1868-1910) to Sweden and Denmark in the summer of 1897 through postcolonial lens.

Although Siam was not directly colonised, it had similar experience with other colonised mainland Southeast Asian nations. I take into account that four years earlier Siam had just lost the Franco-Siamese War, and that marked a watershed to the Siamese foreign policy: the absolute monarchy under King Chulalongkorn must seek ways to come to terms with the rapidly transforming world. With this task in mind, his first European trip was decided.

Previous research and the common view interprets the 1897 trip to Europe as a sign of a progressiveness and modern outlook that marked the height of the Siamese absolute monarchy. He visited almost all courts of the major European powers, including Russia to which Siam had a close bond. My research proposes that the Siamese king undertook the journey sensing the end of the absolute monarchy in his country and to learn how to handle a growing national bourgeoisie that would later on become a challenge to absolutism itself, a similar experience with colonised nations. King Chulalongkorn’s 1897 trip will be used as a lens to a wider context in which the trip took place.

This project will be based on primary archives both from Sweden and Denmark and from the National Archives of Thailand, which has been rarely used before. It will also include secondary sources in Swedish, Danish and Thai.

This research aims particularly to contribute to the history of Nordic Colonialism. It aims to analyse the two regions through colonial and postcolonial relationships. The role of Scandinavian powers and colonialism has been increasingly studied in recent years, but its relation to non-colonised Siam, and mainland Southeast Asia, has not received much attention. This research aims to fill this gap.