Discriminating tastes : editing Siam's patrimony and the birth of the 'National Library,' 1905-1925

Mika, Joshua Christopher
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2012]
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Concerning the authority which libraries possess in society, Fernando Baez states, "We have to remember that museums and libraries were closely linked to the nation's power structure."18 This research proffers that this statement be taken further in the case of Siam's Royal Library for the Capital: The Library was not only linked to Siam's power structure, it was an active agent within the power structure by defining and promoting what Siam was and what constituted the nation through publications composed by the Library's royal administrators and published as Royal Library for the Capital editions. These publications became standard educational treatises on Siamese history, society, politics, and literature. The Library also acted as a warehouse of "raw material" to facilitate knowledge production within a growing amount of print-scholarship concerning the new notion of Siamese cultural identity.19 During this era (and the present era in Thailand), Siam was replete with non-Thai peoples, such as Khmer, Lao, Burmese, Chinese, and many others who represented potential sources of minority unrest to the ruling ethnic Thai absolutist regime. This research details how the Library's royal administrators consolidated competing sources of information that were deemed to conflict with the emerging royalist-nationalist, Thai-dominated identity of the Kingdom. Far from promoting the egalitarian ideals which we find in Carnegie's philanthropic work in establishing American public libraries, as an obverse, Siam's Royal Library for the Capital was an active agent operating to promote the hegemony of the Chakri regime through its collection policies and the production of knowledge (as argued in the sixth and seventh chapters). Within the sixth and seventh chapters, this research examines the scope of history during first twenty years of the Library's existence, covering the latter years of King Chulalongkorn's reign (1905-1910) and the entirety King Vajiravudh's reign (1910-1925). It investigates the actions of the library's administrators and the publications which the library scholar-officials (including some Westerners who acted as chief librarians) published while amassing Siam's literary heritage within the centralized location of the Royal Library for the Capital. Also, this research examines the Royal Library's role within the dissemination of newly constructed knowledge within the Kingdom. The scholar-librarians who administered the institution enabled and promoted great epistemological changes within the kingdom, and they greatly enlarged the collections and functions of the Royal Library for the Capital. This period of the early years of the Library marks distinct changes in official discourses of knowledge within Siam. Simply put, Siam's Royal Library for the Capital was central to this process. It acted as a sort of foundry wherein knowledge was manipulated and forged. This knowledge promoted a new construct of the Siamese nation, and it promoted the primacy of the newly constructed, unilateral Thai history which buttressed the legitimacy of the ruling Chakri elite; their views, in this process, were the only ones articulated.20 The institution therefore acted as both locus and agent for discriminating knowledge production and its dissemination. The intent through this research is to expand upon the constructs of the Library's history which have been put forth by the Thai government as well as Thai and foreign scholarship over the past century. Its role within the absolutist Siamese regime has not yet been fully articulated in scholarship; its relationship to other processes of Siamese internal-colonization has yet to be realized.
M.L.I.S. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2012.
Includes bibliographical references.
Siam, national library
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Theses for the degree of Master of Library and Information Science (University of Hawaii at Manoa). Library and Information Science.
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