The magical tones of antique bronze drums from Burma will resound this week at NIU during the 10th International Burma Studies Conference, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Holmes Student Center.
A record number of attendees – nearly 140 from around the world – have registered. More than 100 papers in a wide variety of fields, including anthropology, art history, environment, health, history, literature, linguistics, music, political science, popular culture, religions, non-governmental organizations, area studies and the Burmese diaspora, will be presented during conference sessions.
Interest in Burma/Myanmar is growing in response to the country’s recent re-emergence on the world stage, according to conference organizer and art historian Catherine Raymond, director of the Center for Burma Studies .
“When we called for papers a year ago, there was more interest in submitting and we had more papers submitted than ever before,” she said. “A number of scholars from Burma are coming as well.”
Particularly significant at this conference will be the presence of a high-level delegation of officials from Myanmar as well as attendees from China for the first time, Raymond said.
“With the opening of Burma, it will be the second time in NIU history that any Burmese officials will attend the conference since the opening of the Center for Burma Studies in 1987 by former Prime Minister U Nu. This was due in part to the political situation following the unrest of 1988,” Raymond said. “We are honored to welcome these dignitaries to our conference.”
The Chinese delegation from Yunan, Southern China, is also a welcome addition to this conference not only because that part of China is a close neighbor to Burma, Raymond said, but also because of its long shared history and its position as a key player today.
During the conference, eminent Burma scholar David Steinberg of Georgetown University and NIU Burmese language professor emeritus U Saw Tun will be honored for their contributions to the field of Burma Studies. “David Steinberg has had a lifelong commitment to Burma,” Raymond said. “He has been involved in Burma since the 1960s and has always promoted negotiation and moving forward.”
Saw Tun, who began teaching Burmese at NIU in 1990, retired as an associate professor in 2010, but continues to teach Burmese at the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI) held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. NIU and SEASSI are two of just a handful of places where undergraduate and graduate students can pursue Burmese language study, Raymond said.
As a result, Saw Tun has left a lasting legacy in Burma Studies in the United States. “As just one example, a dozen scholars registered for the conference were once Saw Tun’s students at SEASSI,” she said.
The biannual Burma conference continues to leave its own legacy at NIU. First initiated in 2002 by professor emeritus and Center for Burma Studies founding director Richard Cooler, the conference has been held every four years in DeKalb since the first was held in Sweden in 2002.
“The conference has been held in various locations, including Sweden, Singapore, France and NIU, in order to bring different groups of scholars and students together,” said Raymond, who became director of the Center for Burma Studies in 2002 and has since organized all of the NIU conferences.
In addition to two days of back-to-back panels on Friday and Saturday, the conference will include a number of cultural events, including:
- A special opening of the exhibit, “Music for the Divine: Musical Instruments and Traditions of Burma,” curated by Raymond, which is on display at the NIU Art Museum in Altgeld Hall through Nov. 17.
- The world premiere of “Five Pools,” an original composition for Karen bronze drums by NIU associate music professor and head of percussion studies Gregory Beyer, to be performed at the conference gala by Beyer and four NIU music students Nick Fox, Jonny Gifford, Lane Parsons and Brian Wach.
- A free public screening of the critically acclaimed documentary film, They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain, at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, in the Carl Sandburg Auditorium in the Holmes Student Center with a discussion afterward by the film’s director, Robert Lieberman.
Also performing at the conference gala program will be Burmese, Mon and Karen musicians and dancers, including a cultural group from the Fort Wayne, Ind., refugee community, and closing with a musical finale representing the country’s eight major ethnic groups.
The conference ends Sunday morning with two roundtable sessions, one on the ethics of research in Myanmar and one on current affairs sponsored by the Asia Foundation. The foundation panel will be moderated by NIU alumnus John Brandon, the foundation’s associate director, and include conference honoree Steinberg in the group.
The conference is presented by the Center for Burma Studies, the trustees of the Burma Studies Foundation, and the Burma Studies Group. It is co-sponsored by NIU, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the NIU Foundation.
For more information, call (815) 753-1771 or email [email protected].