A tale of two princesses

22 09 2013

A report in an Illinois newspaper explains that Thailand’s Princess Sirindhorn has received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Northern Illinois University. NIU is home to the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The Center’s long history is peppered with interesting government connections during the period when the United States was most active in Southeast Asia, with one report stating that the Department of Defense and the Advanced Research Projects Agency claiming at least one NIU professors: “We had Dr. Ladd Thomas, Northern Illinois University.” Such connections may seem ancient now, but they are well remembered in DeKalb and Bangkok.

The story doesn’t explain why NIU has given this honorary doctorate. However, the DeKalb Daily Chronicle says: “She was chosen for the degree in the spring because of her humanitarian efforts and worldwide prominence as a scholar…”. PPT has been unable to establish any particular scholarship that has earned any academic reputation for the princess outside Thailand, where royal posterior polishing is required. Google Scholar lists just 4 or 5 citations and these are to opening ceremony speeches.

Her “academic” activity seems to revolve around teaching history to cadets at the  Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy where one task she performs is linking military and monarchy in its extra-constitutional tryst that began in 1957.

Former CSEAS director Clark Neher is probably closer to the mark when he is quoted as saying: “By awarding an honorary doctor to Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn, we shine a light on Her Royal Highness and the enduring relationship between her country and our institution…”. The award is about the long-standing relationship between the U.S. government and the royal family and palace.

Interestingly, Sirindhorn’s visit gets some attention in a NIU Center PDF newsletter. While only a couple of pictures are reproduced, we thought them worth reproducing here:

NIU 1It seems odd to us that there is no really academic work on display in the NIU Library. Our old eyes can’t see, for example, The King Never Smiles (ภาษาไทย), A Coup for the Rich (downloads a PDF) or Saying the Unsayable. Of course, if a university is to dole out honorary degrees to royals there must be self-censorship at work. This is all about illusion, although it is also delusion.

Meanwhile, when delusion is mentioned, PPT notes that the entertainment media has been busily “reporting” on the reality-challenged music princess Rihanna in Thailand. She is reported to have attended bizarre sex shows, caressed elephants  and then declared herself “Empress.” We are not sure if this delusional self-promotion relates to elephants or something else. Seriously, though, even music princesses should be aware that this self-proclamation is potentially dangerous in a country where “protecting the monarchy” can land an “empress” in jail for 15 years on lese majeste.


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