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Introducing: Pichayapat Naisupap

Pichayapat Naisupap recently joined the Institute for History as PhD candidate. Below, he introduces himself.

I come from Thailand. Informally, people call me Toh as it is a tradition in Thailand that we have a nickname. I graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Southeast Asian Studies at Thammasat University in Thailand, with an interest in cultural history. I continued studying for a master’s degree in History at Chulalongkorn University. My MA thesis in Thailand is about twentieth-century Thai ghost stories and how these stories reflected societal fears, tension, and conflicts at the time.

In 2019, I had an opportunity to study for another master’s degree as one of the students in the Cosmopolis Advanced program within the specialization of Colonial and Global History at the Institute for History at Leiden University. Before coming to the Netherlands, I only had a perception of the Dutch through the Thai dairy industry company Dutch Mill (which has nothing to do with the Dutch at all). During my studies, this program has deepened my knowledge not only in the modern Dutch language but also in the early modern Dutch, Dutch paleography, and global history through the Dutch East India Company (VOC) records kept at the National Archives in the Hague. I have come to realize that there are tremendous connections between the Dutch and Thailand or Asia in general. The last time I went back to Thailand I visited a place that used to be a Dutch trading post in Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand. The ruins of the Dutch factorij have never been so vibrant before.

When I explored various aspects of the VOC history through secondary literature while choosing a topic for my thesis, I was fascinated by the story of an Asian elephant named Hansken. The elephant traveled to the Netherlands via a VOC ship during the early seventeenth century as a gift for the Dutch stadtholder Frederik Hendrik. Hansken impressed many people and traveled across Europe. This story made me to conduct a research study on the elephants and the VOC. By the supervision of Professor Jos Gommans, I framed my MA thesis within the concept of the emblematic worldview and the diplomatic history of the VOC. Besides trading, the VOC sent and received gift-elephants to/from Asian rulers throughout the early modern period.

In April this year, I continued my project on the history of the elephants and the VOC in my PhD research. My PhD research expands from my MA thesis. It examines further how elephants played their roles in the making of the Dutch overseas empire during the early modern period (1600-1800). This research will add the nonhuman in the New Imperial History that has only focused on humans so far. This research project made me aware of the importance of more-than-human agents and made me eager to explore more on the animal-human relationships in history. COVID-19 has also made people realize once again, that humans and animals were never apart from each other.

The pandemic also forced me to start my PhD research at home. Fortunately, Dutch early modern published books and VOC records, which are my main sources, are virtually digitized and can be accessed from home. On the one hand, this condition has deprived - using Arlette Farge’s words - ‘the allure of the archives’ from the experiences of historians. On the other, it has enabled historians to experience the digital world of archives on the computer screen. The digital archives may lose their charming presence, but they made historical records long-lasting and conveniently accessible. Thanks to the digital world, people living abroad and interested in Dutch history and the VOC are able to work on their research at home. Even though ships or aircrafts stopped their courses, the connections are still firmly established.

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