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Mission & History

The Center for Southeast Asia Studies (CSEAS) is one of the oldest and most prominent academic centers concerned with Southeast Asia in the United States. CSEAS functions as an administrative base to promote the expansion of Southeast Asian studies on the UC Berkeley campus by facilitating faculty and graduate research, by presenting campus lecture series and cultural programs, by organizing public outreach and international conferences, and by hosting visitors and scholars from around the world.


Scholars from UC Berkeley have undertaken research in Southeast Asia since the early 1900s. Important scholars of Southeast Asia who taught at UC Berkeley include economic historian Clive Day, art historian Lawrence Briggs, anthropologist Clifford Geertz, political scientist Dan Lev, and geographer Paul Wheatley.

In addition, a number of Berkeley professors and administrators worked in the Philippines during the initial decades of the American occupation. David Barrows, who served as UC Berkeley’s Chancellor from 1919 to 1923, held several different positions in the U.S. colonial administration in the Philippines prior to joining Berkeley's faculty. Robert Sproul, who served as President of the University of California system from 1930 to 1958, was administrator for the public education system in the Philippines in the 1920s. Alfred Kroeber, the pioneering American ethnographer, also worked in the Philippines and published a short monograph on the peoples of the islands. Bernard Moses, who founded UC Berkeley’s political science department, was the first Secretary of Public Instruction for the Philippines, after serving as a member of the Taft Commission.

Berkeley's Southeast Asian Studies program was formally established during World War II, when the university was designated as a special training venue for intelligence officers headed for the Pacific. It was during this war that Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese were first taught at on campus. Vietnamese would not be taught again until 1991, but Thai and Indonesian continued to be offered over the years from this period.

In 1959 the Ford Foundation extended institutional grants to several major U.S. research universities to promote international studies. The Center for Southeast Asia Studies was established in 1960 in part because of this support. Although later merging with the Center for South Asia Studies in 1969 to form the Center for South and Southeast Asia Studies, CSEAS re-established its institutional independence in 1990.

In 2000, CSEAS joined as a consortium with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at University of California, Los Angeles to become a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center for Southeast Asian Studies. As a joint center, UCLA and UC Berkeley form one of only seven Title VI National Resource Centers for Southeast Asia in the U.S., and the only such center in California.