Southeast Asia

Digital History of Southeast Asia

a key to global education: Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci

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Experience our digital history of Southeast Asia and its unique civilizations with WisdomMaps!


The history of Southeast Asia focuses on two distinct sub-regions. Mainland Southeast Asia (Indochina) includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and peninsular Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Maritime Southeast Asia includes Brunei, the Cocos Islands, Christmas Island, East Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore.

Homo sapiens appeared in mainland Southeast Asia around 70,000 years ago and some 50,000 years ago in maritime Southeast Asia. Some 25,000 years ago, East Asian-related groups migrated southwards into maritime Southeast Asia from the mainland, and by 10,000 BCE they developed a rich tradition and culture of artifact and tool production. During the Neolithic era, Austroasiatic peoples populated Indochina and sea-going Austronesian immigrants settled in maritime Southeast Asia. The earliest agricultural societies began in the 17th century BCE by cultivating millet and wet rice in the lowlands and river floodplains of Indochina.

The Phung Nguyen culture (modern northern Vietnam) and the Ban Chiang site (modern Thailand) developed the use of copper by around 2,000 BCE, and by the Dong Son culture developed a highly sophisticated bronze industry by 500 BCE. Around the same time, the first agricultural polities emerged in the abundant and fertile lands of the lower Mekong and Red River deltas. Smaller groups joined in the rapidly expanding sea trade.

Topography played a large role in Southeast Asia. The early Khmer and Mon civilizations thrived in the challenging terrain where the Irrawaddy, Salween, Chao Phraya, Mekong and Red Rivers steered trade and cultural exchange with the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. But with the exceptions of the massive islands of Borneo, Sumatra, and Java, maritime Southeast Asia is a patchwork of islands in far-flung archipelagos where growth and prosperity depend upon sea trade.

The Southeast Asian archipelago has long been central to the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea trading routes. This has brought wealth and an influx of new thinking that embraced Hindu elements of statecraft, religion, and culture. Chinese culture also influenced Southeast Asia, but long periods of Chinese isolationism and China’s tribute demands prevented extensive interaction.

Buddhism began to affect the political structure of Southeast Asia in the 8th to 9th centuries, especially in Indochina. Islamic ideas arrived in the 8th century, and the first Muslim societies emerged by the 13th century. The era of European colonialism, early modernity, Cold War, and hot war on Indochina revealed the reality of Southeast Asian nationalism. Post-colonialism demands a modern state and a strong sense of national identity, and most modern Southeast Asian countries have attained an unprecedented degree of political freedom and self-determination.

That said, here’s our assortment… please enjoy! When you’re done perusing a map, just close it, and you’ll be back here.


Southeast Asia Index | Early Southeast Asia: BurmaKhmer EmpireLaosMajapahit EmpireMaritime StatesSiam: PowerVietnam: Power | Colonial Southeast Asia: SocietyPowerEconomyDutch East IndiesMalaccaPhilippinesVietnam | Modern Southeast Asia: PowerPost-War PoliticsCambodiaIndonesia: PowerLaosMalaysia: SocietyPowerMyanmarPhilippines: PowerEconomySingaporeThailandVietnam: Power

Early Southeast Asia

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Colonial Southeast Asia

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Modern Southeast Asia

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