San Somdet and the knowledge formation of Thai art history in Thailand

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Nuaon Khrouthongkhieo

Abstract

This research intends to analyze the informing methods of Thai Art Historical knowledge from “San Somdet”, a compilation of letters by Prince Narisara Nuvadtivongs and Prince Damrong Rajanubhab. Both princes held prestige positions in Thai bureaucracy during the reigns of King Rama V-VII. Shortly after the shift of ruling regime in Siam, Prince Damrong left Thailand and stayed in Penang. However, he regularly wrote letters to Prince Naris.  Later, these letters were compiled and published as “San Somdet”. This compilation is acclaimed as a highly historically valued document because its content covers historical, social and cultural knowledge of Siam in that time. This research proposes a new perspective that both princes use systematic, western scientific methods, which has never been studied before, in the process of informing Thai arts and historical knowledge. Those methods are: 1) inquiry and examination information from both princes’ memories and others scholars, 2) research from written documents, 3) examination from different sources, 4) data collection from field exploration, 5) analysis based on scientific tool and experiment, and 6) dating by comparison between artifacts’ patterns and materials. Although these methods are not considered an exact criterion in the current Art History’s methodology, these attempts show the transition of knowledge formation of Thai Art History. The knowledge taken from San Somdet is still resourceful to Thai academics until today.

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