Southeast Asia

The Southeast Asia collection supports research and teaching in and about the contemporary nations of Brunei, East Timor, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam and the historical region of Indochina and its links to the East Asia Pacific region. At Columbia, faculty with Southeast Asian studies affiliations have administratively been part of the Columbia Weatherhead East Asian Institute. Columbia University Libraries collects mostly English-language materials in Southeast Asian studies and relies on Cornell University Library for more extensive and specialist resources. The 2CUL Southeast Asian studies partnership with Cornell has existed since 2011. Under this partnership, Cornell and Columbia both maintain separate collection development profiles (and independent CAPSEA Library of Congress—Jakarta profiles), but Columbia students and faculty have direct access to Cornell’s Southeast Asian Librarians as a supplement to the services provided at Columbia University Libraries. Cornell has the most comprehensive Southeast Asia collection in the world; for this reason, collection development at Columbia emphasizes primary and secondary resource materials mostly in English and of core interest to faculty and student research. There has recently been expanding interest in Southeast Asian studies via the New York Southeast Asia Network (NYSEAN), created in 2015. NYSEAN is based in the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University as are core Southeast Asia faculty. There are seven core Southeast Asia specialists affiliated with the Weatherhead East Asian Institute as of 2019; faculty geographical specializations include political Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the pan-Southeast Asia region.

Columbia University Libraries has some rare Southeast Asian studies collections, such as the Southeast Asia series (Series 4) of the Missionary Research Library Archives at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary.

Collection suggestions from students and faculty are always welcome.

a. Undergraduate

The Southeast Asia collection supports a variety of courses ranging from the humanities (such as Asian humanities) to the social sciences and on broader pan-region topics. Representative undergraduate courses include the music of East Asia & Southeast Asia, Asian humanities, Vietnam in the world, wars of Indochina, political transitions--Southeast Asia, and politics, justice and history--Southeast Asia. 

b. Graduate and Professional Schools

At the graduate level, the Departments of History, Human Rights, International and Public Affairs, Political Science, and East Asian Languages & Cultures offer Southeast Asia-specific courses. Courses and field experiences at the School of International and Public Affairs always include many Southeast Asia-based projects.

c. Institutes, Interdisciplinary Programs, etc.

In 2015, faculty from Columbia (Duncan McCargo and Ann Marie Murphy) and New York University (John Gershman and Margaret Scott) established the New York Southeast Asia Network (NYSEAN), which operates out of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. The organization has been active in sponsoring events and lectures in New York City and beyond. 

d. Course Reserves

Selection for course reserves is up to individual faculty members. The Librarian will do whatever is possible to secure specific materials absent from the collection.

a. Print

Columbia collects print materials in all areas of the humanities and social sciences; selective sciences are collected (focused especially on ecology and environment issues). The emphasis is on English-language titles that are central to teaching and research interests at Columbia University. Humanities and history titles are mostly located in the Butler Library stacks, with some minor biographies sent off site. Acquisitions related to the social sciences, such as anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology, are located in the Lehman Social Sciences Library stacks. Art catalogs and art books are noncirculating in the Avery Library stacks; architecture and archaeology titles are located in Avery Library’s off-site storage. Columbia very selectively collects some titles in Southeast Asian languages such as Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, and Vietnamese; such non-English titles generally have strong pictorial components (e.g. art books for Avery, comics, and graphic novels) or include statistical sections. For extensive materials in Burmese, Filipino, Indonesian, Khmer, Lao, Malaysian, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese and much more extensive English and Dutch collections, Columbia relies on the 2CUL partnership with Cornell.

b. Digital Collections

Columbia University Libraries is selective in acquiring digital collections with Southeast Asia content. Primary source collections which emphasize literature, history, or international affairs are prioritized. Multi-region databases such Emerging Markets Information Service and South and Southeast Asian Literature include substantial Southeast Asia content. Primary source collections relate to human rights (in Cambodia and Myanmar, for example). Also of relevance to Southeast Asian studies are several US- and UK-focused primary source collections related to the Vietnam War, such as America in Protest: Records of Anti-Vietnam War Organizations; Indochina, France, and the Viet Minh War, 1945--1954: Records of the US State Department; Intelligence Reports from the National Security Council’s Vietnam Information Group, 1967--1975; and the Nixon Years, 1969--1974 component of Archives Direct: Sources from The National Archives, UK. Born digital records, such as new open access serials from the Southeast Asia region, are regularly added to the Columbia University Libraries catalog.

c. Media

Cinema and documentary films from the Southeast Asia region in DVD format are acquired via the Library of Congress—Jakarta program, with priority accorded to films with English subtitles. Additional educational licensed DVDs are acquired for films appropriate for classroom teaching.

d. Languages Collected

Mostly English-language materials are collected. More occasionally, acquisitions include materials in Burmese, Chinese, Khmer, Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian vernaculars; most such non-English acquisitions either have a visual component (art books or film), or are related to a Columbia niche collection (comics or human rights, for example).

e. Chronological Focus

There is no chronological limit on collecting of Southeast Asian acquisitions. 

f. Geographical Focus

At the basic level, such as reference works and general surveys, all geographical regions of Southeast Asia are included. For more specialized materials, emphasis is placed on regions related to core faculty interests (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam), regions related to core Columbia niche collections (Cambodia and Myanmar, in relation to human rights). Acquisitions related to history of the Vietnam War from the perspectives of the United States and France, as well as from the perspective of Southeast Asian regional nations, are generally included in the Southeast Asia fund. 

g. Imprint Dates Collected

The main focus of collecting is current and recent (+/- three years) imprints. When antiquarian acquisitions are offered via gift or purchase, no specific chronological ranges are established in advance; rare or unique materials from any period may be considered.  

The Southeast Asia series of the Missionary Research Library Archives at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary includes primary source papers collections. The Dramatic Museum Realia, 1700--1966 collection at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library includes shadow puppets from Burma and Java.  

a. Consortia and Collaborative Collecting with Other Institutions

The 2CUL Southeast Asian studies partnership with Cornell was established in 2011. Through this partnership, Columbia faculty and students have access to Greg Green and Jeffrey Peterson, Curator and Southeast Asia Librarian, respectively, at Cornell. Cornell has the most comprehensive Southeast Asia collection in the world; the Cornell Echols Collection was established in 1977.

b. Location Decisions and Selection for ReCAP

As Southeast Asia acquisitions at Columbia are focused on materials core to faculty and student teaching and research interests, most items are located on site in the Butler Library or Lehman Library stacks. More tangential items do arrive via Library of Congress--Jakarta profiles; such items as biographies of peripheral figures, Festschrifts, and specialized reports are sent to ReCAP. Duplication of titles is limited to works identified by faculty as being central to a specific course. In these cases, no more than a few copies are obtained, one of which should be placed by the faculty member on reserve. Deduplication only takes place when a title has been identified for relocation to ReCAP and a copy already exists on shelf at that facility. Even in this instance, the Librarian will inspect the copy that could potentially be withdrawn for any unique features or unusual provenance before assenting to deduplication.

c. Deaccessioning

Titles are deaccessioned only in cases where the physical copy is disintegrating and no longer serviceable in print format. In these instances, either a preservation photocopy is made, or a digital surrogate created or obtained. Books located in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library are not deaccessioned.

d. Digitization and Preservation

Some Rare Book & Manuscript Library materials have been digitized. The Dramatic Museum Realia puppets and masks collection has been digitized, including puppets from Burma and Thailand and masks from Thailand.  

Gary Hausman

Gary Hausman

South Asian Studies Librarian

  • Global Studies

(212) 854-8401
Global Studies - 309 International Affairs


Curator, Echols Collection on Southeast Asia, Cornell University

(607) 255-8889


Southeast Asia Librarian

Echols Collection on Southeast Asia, Cornell University

(607) 255-7229

Last updated: April 5, 2019