Asian History

Asia has historically occupied a position at the centre of the global economy. For much of human history, Asia has been the richest and most advanced region in the world. At Monash, we look back across the broad sweep of Asian history to understand the role that Asia has played in world history and how it continues to shape the world today. In addition to opportunities in Victoria, Monash students can study at the university’s campus in Malaysia or can spend a semester at one of our many international partners across Asia.

If you’re interested in studying Asian history at Monash, the best starting point is ATS1319 Understanding Asia: an introduction to Asian history and culture. This first year unit provides a broad overview of Asian history from 1500 to today. It has an ambitious scope, focusing on key moments and longer trends across the region, with a primary focus on China, Indonesia, Korea and Japan. In particular, it examines how Asia was reshaped by forces such as imperialism, nationalism and modernization. The goal of the unit is to provide students with a solid basis of knowledge in the history of the region, either as the foundation for further studies on Asia, or as an important complement to their Asian language studies.

SOPHIS Staff Research Areas

The History Program includes a number of staff working on East, Southeast and South Asia.

Adam Clulow Premodern and modern East Asia; Japanese History
Ernest Koh Modern Southeast and East Asian history
Susie Protschky European empires in Asia; Indonesian history; History of photography, Visual culture.

Units Offered

We offer a range of units in Asian history. For a full list of units, see the handbook, but you might want to consider:

The fall and rise of modern China: From opium war to opening up
The rise of China as an economic superpower since the 1980s features as one of the most startling and spectacular stories of development in human history. Modern China appears to be one characterised by contradictions and idiosyncrasies: Communist in name, but capitalist in practice; embracing of the newest cultural trends in fashion, music, media, and education yet deeply suspicious of Western ideas. Talk about greater levels of democratic participation are often smothered by powerful waves of Chinese nationalism positing that liberal ideologies are incompatible with the very nature of Chinese society. In this unit, students will come to understand the range of explanations that have been put forward to account for the rise of modern China in the decades and centuries following its humiliating defeats in the Opium Wars of the mid-19th century. Through a close examination of key events in China’s modern history as well as shifting ideas of nation, nationalism, and modernity, it furnishes students with an in-depth understanding of the modern Chinese state and its citizenry, as well as China’s likely future trajectory.
ATS 2606 / 3606
The Island World of Southeast Asia
The island world of Southeast Asia encompasses the region now defined by the modern states of Malaysia and Indonesia. The unit will explore cultural, political and economic change in this region from the early kingdoms to the beginning of the nineteenth century. A major theme will be the development of two local cultural and political patterns, those of the Javanese and Malay worlds.
The Vietnam War
This unit traces the origins of the war in resistance to French colonialism after 1945 and examines deepening US involvement, analysing the motivations of the main participants. The unit will focus not just on the military phases of the war, but also on its cultural and ideological ramifications in Vietnam, the USA and Australia. Lectures will provide a general framework with tutorials focussing on more specific issues such as contrasting styles of warfare, cold war ideology, the role of the media, anti-war protest, POW and veterans issues and approaches to commemoration and remembrance. The wider ramifications of the war in Southeast Asia, especially in Cambodia, will also be studied.
ATS2909 / ATS3909
Villains and rogues: A history of ideas about gangsters
For most of the 20th century, the exploits of gangsters, ranging from Dillinger to the Yakuza to the Green Gang of Shanghai, have been constantly re-imagined in books, music, film, and television. Gangsters are usually portrayed as romantic figures, rogues resisting the intrusive state. That gangsters have been an integral part of modern history is not in doubt. But apart from being romantic figures, what do gangsters actually do, and why are they celebrated? Are their interactions with the state only defined by resistance? Drawing on sources including film and literature, this unit traces the modern story of gangsters and their unique relationships with their respective states and societies.
Encounters and empire: Europe and the world
From the medieval period onwards, expansion brought Europeans increasingly into contact with diverse cultures and civilizations. This unit explores how encounters between Europe and the world were transformed from the tentative and uncertain contacts that characterised earlier periods to the self-confident imperialism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Rather than analysing the broad sweep of political history, we are interested in the leading edge of cross-cultural encounters: in travellers, diplomats, and slaves who ‘crossed-over’ to engage with new cultural worlds, in the tools that made these encounters possible and in the commodities that underpinned global exchange.

Asian languages at Monash

Students interested in Asia are strongly encouraged to consider taking an Asian language. Currently the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics offers four Asian languages (Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean).

Units offered in other Schools and Centres

If you are interested in Asian history, you might want to consider taking units in others schools across Monash. Some units to consider are:

Resources at Monash

Monash is a leading centre for Asian history in Australia. The Asian Studies Research Collection consists of Asian language materials with a focus on Southeast Asia and East Asia. It contains over 100,000 volumes. It is supplemented by databases and other electronic resources, large microform and audio-visual holdings and an extensive range of English language resources relating to Asia, including substantial resources on South Asia.