Trained by specialists on Southeast Asia who taught me that the region’s past could not be apprehended solely “from the deck of the ship,” I was encouraged to attend to the distinctiveness of local historical practices and mentalities, without losing sight of their regional connections and global parallels. They also impressed upon me the vital importance of grounded and situated knowledge that challenges predominant paradigms and categories of analysis derived from “Western” traditions. These
intellectual orientations have shaped my interest in the histories of colonialism, modernity, nationalism, and migration in Asia. I have a deep commitment to interdisciplinary, intersectional, and multi-lingual research and scholarship, and engage with area studies specialists as well as feminist, postcolonial, and decolonial scholars working outside a specialization in Asian studies and history. My research has been funded by several institutions including the National Endowment for the Humanities, Japan Foundation, Toyota Foundation, and Mellon Foundation.
My first book Refiguring Women, Colonialism, and Modernity in Burma (University of Hawai’i Press, 2011) examined colonial politics, gender and race relations, social reforms, anticolonialism, media, and consumerism in colonial Burma. My recently completed book, Interasian Intimacies Across Religion, Race, and Colonialism (under contract with Cornell University Press), is based on extensive research on sources in Burmese, Japanese, and English as well as oral and personal archives of one family whose life stories of migration, intermarriage, and conversion span across and beyond the histories of British and Japanese colonialism in Burma (present-day Myanmar). It elucidates a history that has been obscured by the all too familiar heterosexual coupling of the white male colonizer and the native female to reveal that interasian intimacies constituted the primary, and hitherto unrecognized, site for the articulation of modern understandings of religion, race, family, and nation that continue to vex many regions of Asia today.
I am currently at work on a new research project tentatively entitled “Restless Remains: Reburying and Redressing Empire, Migration, and War in Overseas Japanese Cemeteries.” Dozens of nihon jin bochi (Japanese cemeteries) dot the landscape of Southeast Asia, a region that Japan occupied during the Second World War. Based on oral history, photographic documentation, and archival research across Asia, I explore the history of Japanese diasporic and transnational subjects who have been retroactively claimed by the Japanese state and society as “Japanese nationals,” and the gendered, classed, and ethnic limits of mobility and belonging that have structured Japanese migration and imperialism in Southeast Asia as elsewhere. What lessons do the nihonjin bochi hold, I ask, for envisioning and enacting what Leo Ching terms “reconciliation otherwise”: practices of historical redress that refuse the geopolitics of patriarchal nation-states?