Professor’s mission to launch scholarly journal in Burma now a reality

A Yale professor’s five-year quest to re-establish a tradition of rigorous scholarship and research in Myanmar (formerly Burma) has come to fulfillment with the publication of the first issue of the Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship.

The life of independent public inquiry, open public debate, and open scholarship and research virtually ceased in Myanmar for a half century after 1962, when the military took over. In 2011 the ruling military junta officially dissolved itself, opening the way for a democratic transition and political “opening.”

That same year James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and professor of anthropology, proposed reviving, under a new name, the tradition of the Journal of the Burma Research Society, founded in 1910 and abolished in 1979 by the military regime. His mission was two-fold: to assist in the training and mentoring of aspiring scholars in Burma and, at the same time, to create a high-quality publication on issues of importance to the civic-minded public.

Scott, who is also co-director of the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale’s MacMillan Center, proposed that while avoiding direct political engagement and tendentiousness, the journal would ideally come to be seen as open to serious work in social sciences, history, and the humanities, with historical depth and careful argument on contemporary and controversial issues. He suggested that the availability of software for open-access, digital journal publishing provided a unique opportunity for virtual publication that could be timely, beyond the reach of ordinary censorship, and allowing for commentary, debate and replies in real time. It was his hope, he said, that one day the journal would be run largely by scholars based in Burma.

In November 2011, the Yale Council on Southeast Asia Studies provided the first seed money for this project, sponsoring a workshop hosting 10 scholars of Burma, including Burmese scholars of the diaspora, who gathered at Yale University for two days and sketched out what they believed should be the provisional structure and content of such a journal, as well as the opportunities for training and collaboration that was seen as its main purpose. From this initial workshop evolved an organizing committee of Burmese scholars abroad and in Burma, and a handful of Western scholars of Burma who were committed to moving the journal forward.

Thanks to the support of former Yale President Richard Levin and Secretary and Vice President Linda Lorimer, preliminary start-up funding for the journal was provided in the form of a grant from Yale University, given “to commemorate the September 2012 visit of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and to promote her goal of fostering Burmese scholarship.” By 2014, additional funds had been acquired from the Open Society Institute and the Luce Foundation, and a series of workshops were launched in Burma, which would serve to build the content of the first issues of the new journal.

In August 2016, the first issue of the Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship,based in Yangon, Myanmar, was published in digital and print versions, displaying articles in both Burmese and English. The theme of the first issue is poverty.

In an introduction to the new journal, Scott wrote: “We hope, with this and the issues to come, to make a significant contribution to the many admirable efforts now underway in Myanmar to create a vibrant, daring, and critical public sphere of the highest standards. … It is our intention to let the light come in from any and all intellectual windows: the arts, fiction, verse, lyrics, social science, economics, anthropology, history, memoirs. Our premise is that no discipline or specialty has a monopoly on truth or insight, and that the more carefully crafted perspectives we can accommodate the more light we will shed.”

Four more issues are in various stages of production. As originally conceived, each issue explores a particular theme through peer-reviewed papers, and includes distinctive production values in graphics, art, and layout.  

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