Scholars from UC Berkeley have undertaken research in Southeast Asia since the early 1900s. A number of prominent Berkeley faculty 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 a number of different positions in the U.S. colonial administration in the Philippines prior to joining the Berkeley faculty. Robert Sproul, who was 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 the university’s political science department, was the first Secretary of Public Instruction for the Philippines, after serving as a member of the Taft Commission.

Other 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.

Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese were first taught on campus during World War II when the university became a special training venue for intelligence officers headed for the Pacific.

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 founded in 1960 in part because of this support. Although it merged with the Center for South Asia Studies in 1969, it became a separate unit again in 1990. In 2017, CSEAS became part of the Institute of East Asian Studies.

National Resource Center

In 2000, the Center for Southeast Asia Studies joined with the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at University of California, Los Angeles as a consortium 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.

The UC Berkeley-UCLA consortium helps students and faculty at each campus collaborate on particular programs (conferences, workshops, and speaker series), furthers the development of campus resources devoted to the field (such as library acquisitions and cataloguing) and promotes course development and improvements in the quality and accessibility of language instruction.

The consortium has sponsored a Distinguished Visitor program that brought prominent figures from Southeast Asia to both campuses for short residencies, and has held a number of joint symposia and conferences.