British Economic Development in South East Asia, 1880-1939

By Warren, James A. | Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, June 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

British Economic Development in South East Asia, 1880-1939


Warren, James A., Journal of Southeast Asian Studies


British economic development in South East Asia, 1880-1939

Edited by DAVID SUNDERLAND

London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014. 3 vols. Pp. lvii + 356, 486, 468. Notes, Sources, Index.

British economic development in South East Asia, 1880-1939 is an impressive, three-volume set of primary sources, covering the countries that are now Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Singapore and Thailand (Siam). The eighty selected documents deal with a broad range of issues related to British economic policies and their impact during the late colonial period. These texts are organised into broad thematic groups. With its focus solely on agriculture, Volume One includes sources on the mainstays of the export-oriented economies such as rice, rubber and timber but also finds room for some exploring of the roles of fishing and hunting. Volume Two, meanwhile, showcases documents related to mining (such as that of tin, gold and coal), trade (local, intra-regional and international), and manufacturing and processing industries (including textiles, canned pineapples and coconut oil). Lastly, Volume Three broadens the collection's scope beyond economic issues to explore what its subtitle calls 'the building blocks of development'. The sources therein cover governance, transport and communications infrastructure (including railways, shipping and postal services), human capital (specifically, the healthcare, sanitation and housing of migrant populations), and, finally, financial capital (banking, cooperative societies and currency).

The collection starts with a General Introduction in which David Sunderland outlines British economic goals in the region and how they sought to achieve them. This essay is heavily descriptive and provides the necessary context for appreciating the sources. Each of the thematic sections is also prefaced by a short introduction that expands upon the related information in the General Introduction. In all of these essays, Sunderland shows a high level of familiarity with the relevant historiography. However, he does not really engage with any of the debates concerning the nature and effects of British economic policy; seeming to prefer to let the sources speak for themselves. These are a mixture of publications and archival records drawn from libraries across the United Kingdom, especially the British Library in London, the National Archives in Kew and the British Library of Political and Economic Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). They range from extensive sets of statistics on, for example, the imports and exports of the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Penang and Malacca) to detailed discussions of mining in British Malaya and the indigenous cotton industry in British Burma. …

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