Historical Dictionary of Thailand, 3rd ed. Edited by Gerald Fry, Gayla Nieminen, and Harold Smith. Historical Dictionaries of Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Rowman & Littlefield, 2013. Pp. xlviii + 662. $140, 90 [pounds sterling] (cloth); $139.99, 85 [pounds sterling] (ebook).
The new edition of the Historical Dictionary of Thailand, while ambitious in its undertaking and clear in its presentation, is of little assistance to the serious scholar of Thailand. However, it is a good general introduction and reference guide to a student undertaking research in the field. In this short review, I will mention a few of the highlights, indicate areas that could be improved, and then offer a short reflection on the very idea of historical dictionaries and their continued usefulness in the age of internet database searches.
Gerald Fry, Gayla Nieminen, and Harold Smith (deceased) wrote the third edition, and I was eager to see the developments in the field and the expansion of the entries. As usual, the organization, writing, and appendixes are useful. While the Thai-language bibliography is seriously lacking and does not include some of the most basic reference works in the language, the English-language bibliography is solid, although skewed towards the political and sociological. The appendices include lists of king's names, population statistics, information on crops, core economic indicators, and an interesting (but depressing!) chronology of coups d'etat, rebellions, and revolutions since 1782 (which is alarmingly long). Over all, the book is easy to use and it is easy to find entries and quick information. Performing a very unscientific test with one of my students, I tested her time looking up basic information on Thailand's political history using a Google search and me using this Historical Dictionary. My searches yielded simple to read and clear results (without irritating advertisements and pop-ups) much faster. For a bookish person, this is a useful tool to keep at arm's reach. I doubt, though, that most younger scholars who were not brought up in the age of print encyclopedias, dictionaries, and concordances will give up their attachment to internet searches in favor of this tool.
These younger scholars and students do have a great advantage over those who rely only on this dictionary to start research projects or to quickly check names and dates--comprehensiveness and the Thai language. If students do...