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Home > Headlines > Acclaimed historian David Wyatt dies

Acclaimed historian David Wyatt dies

Professor Wyatt has long been recognised as a leading authority on Southeast Asia and the foremost historian of Thailand. He also spoke fluent Thai.
Thai studies expert aged 69 passes away in New York after long battle with MS

Acclaimed Thai studies professor David Wyatt passed away yesterday. He had been suffering from multiple sclerosis for seven years and had spent the last year of his life at the Kendall Nursing Home in Ithaca, New York State.

He died peacefully with his wife Alene by his side. Wyatt was 69.

Thai intellectuals mourned the loss of Wyatt, who made great contributions to Thai and Southeast Asian studies.

"Even during his retirement and failing health, David continued to write, to give lectures, and to mentor students. He is a role model and an inspiration to all of us," Thak Chaloemtiarana, director of the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell University, wrote in a note to his friends and colleagues in Thailand.

Professor Wyatt has long been recognised as a leading authority on Southeast Asia and the foremost historian of Thailand. He also spoke fluent Thai.

"David Wyatt was a great teach-er. Without him the history of Thailand would not have reached this far," said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a well-respected historian who was the first Thai advisee of Wyatt at Cornell University in 1970s.

Wyatt wrote many books on Thai history. Among his publications, "Thailand: A Short History" is his milestone and became the standard textbook on Thai history. The book, first published by Yale University Press in 1984, and then Silkworm Books in 1991, has been reprinted many times. The book is the authority on Thai history in the English world, Charnvit said.

Well-known writer Chiranan Pitpreecha, who was Wyatt's last advisee at Cornell, praised her teacher as "a pillar in the field of Thai and Southeast Asian Studies".

Born in 1937, Wyatt studied philosophy at Harvard University, where he gained a bachelor's degree in 1959. He received an MA in History from Boston University in 1960. He graduated from Cornell University with a PhD in History in 1966.

His book "The Politics of Reform in Thailand (1969)" was his dissertation at Cornell.

From 1964 to 1968, Wyatt taught Southeast Asia History at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of Lon-don. From 1968 to 1969, he taught at the University of Michigan.

Subsequently, in 1969 he accepted a teaching position at Cornell University, where he served as director of the Southeast Asia program, chair of the Department of History, and the John Stambaugh Professor of History & Asian Studies, before retiring in 2002.

Dr Wyatt briefly served as interim curator of the Echols Collection at Cornell University in 2005.

Over four decades of research in Southeast Asian studies Wyatt collected an impressive collection of historical documents.

The collection - acquired by Ohio University's Alden library in October last year - consists of roughly 15,000 volumes, about half of which are in Thai, and includes most of the standard works on Thailand and Southeast Asia in general, a substantial number of Thai royal chronicles, the greater part of King Chulalongkorn's (1868-1910) diaries and letters, and an extensive array of monographs, memoirs and cremation volumes.

"David Wyatt to Thai history is like DGE Hall to Southeast Asian history. He validates its existence as a field of studies," said Professor Thongchai Winichakul, of University of Wisconsin-Madison's Centre of Southeast Asian Studies.

Subhatra Bhumiprabhas

The Nation

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