BioBryce Beemer has a PhD in Southeast Asian History from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa where he also studied World History and comparative slavery. He was recently the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Comparative World History at Colby College, and worked as an editor for TRaNS, a journal devoted to transnational research on the Southeast Asia region. His research is on the transcultural ramifications of slave gathering warfare in Southeast Asia and Northeast India with a special focus on enslaved artisans, religious rituals, artistic production, and processes of creolization and cultural exchange. The Fulbright-Hays (DDRA) and a Watumull Foundation grant for research in South Asia funded his research which was conducted in three countries—Thailand, Burma, and Manipur (India)—over a two-year period. His recent publication “Southeast Asian Slavery and Slave-Gathering Warfare as a Vector for Cultural Transmission: The Case of Burma and Thailand” (published in the Historian) received several academic awards for its innovative research. Transforming his research into a dissertation was benefited by his selection for the AAS/SSRC Dissertation Workshop on “Rewriting Asian History: Nationalism, Identity and the Politics of the Past.” Bryce’s dissertation went on to win the 2014 Dissertation Prize awarded by the World History Association (WHA).
A cultural history of slavery is by necessity a study of transregional and transcultural networks and interactions. This is because the history of a ‘location’ settled by slaves is conjoined to a history of the ‘dislocation’ created by enslavement and forced migration. These insights emerge from creolization theory, an analytical toolbox pioneered by Caribbean intellectuals who view enslaved people as a nexus point for cultural exchange and transformation. Creolization theory promotes research on slavery that focuses on cultural entanglements between slaves and non-slaves and are entwined with the study of the slaves’ natal homeland and the historical conditions of their capture and relocation. My research applies the insights and research strategies emerging from creolization theory to the study of pre-colonial systems of slavery in mainland Southeast Asia. Slave-gathering warfare was an endemic feature of Southeast Asian statecraft in the pre-colonial era. In this lightly populated region, capturing people was more important than seizing new lands. Armies laid siege to rival urban centers and carried thousands of people into captivity, among them artisans, religious officials, performers and musicians. My focus is on skilled war captives and I trace the complex forces of dialogical exchange generated as captives both transformed the society that enslaved them, and were themselves transformed by the crucible of slavery and life in a new land. Ultimately, my research reveals the otherwise subaltern category of slaves and war captives to be potent agents in the cultural history of the Southeast Asia region.