Does Southeast Asia constitute a region? Generations of scholars have grappled with Southeast Asia’s unity and diversity. Home to eleven countries, Southeast Asia boasts of religious, linguistic, and ethnic pluralism. Such an eclectic outlook can be easily taken as the absence of “common traditions” (p. 2) comparable to those in South Asia, the Middle East, or Europe. At the same time, a host of travelogues and ethnographies have described commonalities in climate, diet, material culture, and social organization (that is, bilateral kinship) that are distinct from those of neighboring India or China. These conceptual discussions have been instrumental in establishing “Southeast” as a unit of academic study during the last several decades.
Southeast Asia in World History by Craig A. Lockard, currently Ben and Joyce Rosenberg Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, brings a fresh perspective to the much-debated regional identity of Southeast Asia. Building on his extensive research and writing in Southeast Asian history and world history (his recent publications include a comprehensive world history textbook ), Lockard presents a compelling synthesis of Southeast Asia that warrants attention in world history. Southeast Asia in World History is an account of connections, exchanges, and interactions of peoples, ideas, influences, and commodities from earliest times to the present. With the trajectory of world history, Lockard effectively reorients the long-standing discussion on regional identity from the pursuit of (or lack of) common traditions to an illustration of a region that is dynamic, evolving, and interconnected with the wider world.
Eleven chapters are in a loose chronological order. Each opens with an introductory vignette followed by quotes and summaries of leading publications. Chapter 1, “The Ancient Roots of Southeast Asia to ca. 200 BCE,” highlights the initial peopling of Southeast Asia, the development of agriculture, metallurgy, and early belief systems, and Austronesian migrations into much of coastal Southeast Asia. Seafaring and maritime trade facilitated by the stable monsoon winds were “major forces” in the development of early societies and cultures (p. 15). The chapter also highlights the evolving settlement patterns in highlands and lowlands with the former marked by shifting cultivation and the latter by labor-intensive, wet-rice agriculture. Subsequent chapters describe the development of complex societies and major kingdoms in and around the populous rice-growing regions.
The expanding maritime network, encompassing the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and South China Sea, spread Indian influences in religion (Hinduism, Buddhism), culture, and politics into Southeast Asia (Chapter 2, “Southeast Asians in the Classical World, ca. 200 BCE–800 CE”). By mixing Indian ideas with local traditions, or a process known as “Indianization” (p. 21), the Mons, Khmers, Chams, and Javanese built urban centers and early states. The chapter also features Chinese influence in northern Vietnam during a millennium of colonial rule starting in 111 BCE.
The blending of Indian and Chinese influences with “local creativity” (p. 34) reached a golden age with the formation of distinct polities, such as Champa, Angkor, Pagan, Srivijaya, Madjapahit, and Dai Viet (Chapter 3, “The Kingdoms of the Golden Age, ca. 800–1400”). The gradual demise of the largely Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms led to a new era in Southeast Asia’s connections to the wider world. As examined in Chapter 4, “New Cultures and Connections, ca. 1300–1750,” most of Southeast Asia had become part of “three broad social and cultural spheres” by the fifteenth century centering on Theravada Buddhism, Islam, and Confucian Vietnam (p. 52). Chapter 5, “Christians, Spices, and Western Expansion, 1500–1750,” brings into focus Southeast Asia’s burgeoning spice trade and early interactions with European traders and missionaries.
The next three chapters are set in a period of far-reaching global integration. Chapter 6, “The Western Winds of Colonialism, 1750–1914,” outlines Dutch, British, and French annexation of the Indonesian archipelago, Malaya and Burma, and Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, respectively. Meanwhile, Southeast Asians were asserting autonomy through literary movement (Burma), diplomacy and modernization (Siam), and the nascent nationalism in the Spanish and later American Philippines (pp. 108–114). Chapter 7, “Colonial Impact and Changing Fortunes, 1800–1941,” discusses the transformation of Southeast Asia’s political economy through the imposition of capitalist production, cash-crop farming, and bureaucratic apparatuses under Western dominance. As illuminated in Chapter 8, “Fighting for the Cause of National Freedom, 1900–1950,” the disruption of livelihoods and the exploitation of resources under Western colonialism and the Japanese Occupation led to full-blown nationalist activities across the region.
Chapter 9, “Revolutionary Wars and Nation Building, 1950–1975,” further illuminates Southeast Asia’s revolutionary and diplomatic struggles to achieve and secure independence. Chapter 10, “Diverse Identities, ‘Tigers,’ and Changing Politics since 1970,” discusses comparatively the challenges and successes of economic development, industrialization, and democratic reforms.
The concluding chapter, “Southeast Asia and the Wider World,” recaptures Southeast Asia’s vibrant past and present that stems from creative and selective mixing of “old, new, local and imported” (pp. 202, 205) and sustained contributions to the globalizing economy and culture.
Lockard’s Southeast Asia in World History is concisely written and substantially detailed in just under 300 pages. The accessibility of the text sets this book apart from more robust regional histories, such as the two-volume and coauthored Cambridge History of Southeast Asia and a recent addition, A New History of Southeast Asia. The comprehensive coverage spanning from prehistoric times to the present is in marked contrast to a comparable introductory text, such as Milton Osborne’s Southeast Asia: An Introductory History, which focuses largely on the eighteenth century onward after the arrival of Europeans. Moreover, Lockard’s balanced approach weaves together an array of patterns, parallels, and particulars. As such, his volume breaks conceptually and methodologically from earlier history surveys in which encyclopedic narratives of civilizations and nation-states take precedence over comparisons and interconnections.
Opting to write a comprehensive regional history through themes and comparisons rather than through country chapters, Lockard makes inevitable compromises with the depth of coverage. At times, the text lacks flow, and interregional comparisons and parallels are made spontaneously with little or no elaboration. To take one example, Chapter 4, “The Kingdoms of the Golden Age, ca. 800–1400” makes an analogy between Southeast Asia, on the one hand, and Europe and Japan, on the other hand, in the way new ideas were adopted and adapted. Yet Lockard does not offer relevant examples on the latter to substantiate the comparison (p.35).
A couple of editorial shortcomings, along with a typo on page 45, also deserve mention. Although the index (pp. 227–256) is sufficiently detailed, the absence of a glossary may leave some readers stranded, especially first-time readers of Southeast Asian history. The inclusion of a chronology table in each chapter could enhance the readability of the text. Chronology (pp. 207–208) is outlined too broadly and omits major regime changes and political reforms since the 1980s, although there is extensive coverage of these subjects in Chapter 10.
Lockard’s Southeast Asia in World History captures the gist of Southeast Asian history and is the most accessible single-volume survey history thus far available on the subject. It is highly recommended for readers of all levels who have an interest in Southeast Asia.
 See, for example, O. W. Wolters, History, Culture, and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives, 2nd edition, Ithaca 1999.
 Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450–1680, Volume 1 “The Lands below the Winds“, New Haven 1988, pp. 1–10.
 Recent discussions include: Barbara Watson Andaya, The Unity of Southeast Asia. Historical Approaches and Questions, in: Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 28 (1997) 1, p. 161–71; Ruth McVey, Reynolds J. Craig, Southeast Asian Studies. Reorientations, Ithaca 1998; Victor T. King, Southeast Asia. An Anthropological Field of Study?, in: Moussons 3 (2001) 3, p. 3–32.
 Craig A. Lockard, Societies, Networks, and Transitions. A Global History, 2nd edition, Wadsworth 2011.
 Nicholas Tarling (ed.), The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, Cambridge 1992.
 M. C. Ricklefs / Bruce Lockhart, et al., A New History of Southeast Asia, Basingstoke 2010.
 Milton Osborne, Southeast Asia. An Introductory History, 10th edition, Sydney 2010.
 Rhoads Murphey, A History of Asia, 5th edition, White Plains 2008.