After finishing his Master’s degree from Thammasat University, Thongchai Winichakul received an educational grant to go to study at Sydney University. From the beginning, due to his mediocrity in the language, he found it rather difficult to read English. He very often needed to resort to using a dictionary while reading English text books. He felt disheartened but even so, in comparison with writing his doctoral dissertation, this was inconsequential.
He had come up with quite a few ideas for his doctoral dissertation although they were rejected. Those ideas were unoriginal having been already thought up by other Thai scholars. It is said that during that time, while trying to come up with an innovative subject, he could not do anything for months. He spent his quotidian student life in Australia watching cricket – which is the most unimaginative, boring sport anyone can think of. It was his breakdown point. Then, one day the idea finally materialised.
Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation was the dissertation. The essence of this academic work deals with the idea of how the country was formed. In truth, the definition of the Thai state originated from the western knowledge of cartography when Thais started learning how to make a map.
This cartographic literacy brought about the demarcation of Thailand’s territory – something which would not have ensued without an understanding of the system of map-making.
This was a breakthrough. Siam Mapped was published. The book is his first and most well-known work. Subsequently, he was invited to teach at University of Wisconsin where he has been working since.