The educationist and the anthropologist in Southeast Asia

As part of the Southeast Asia Cultural Collection (SEACC), ISEAS Library holds the photograph collections of Frederic Mason, a lifelong educationist, and Gregory Forth, an anthropologist specialising in eastern Indonesia.

Figure 1 Slides from the Gregory Forth Collection
Figure 1 Slides from the Gregory Forth Collection

The Frederic Mason collection comprises photographic slides taken on Mason’s travels around Southeast Asia in the 1950s; the Gregory Forth collection was photographed in the 1980s, and reflects Forth’s anthropological interests in eastern Indonesia. The photographic slides in these collections have been digitised and are available to view on SEALionPLUS, ISEAS Library’s digital archives.

Frederic Mason (1913-2000), Educationist


Dr Frederic Mason lived his life as an educationist. He had a distinguished undergraduate career at Cambridge where he obtained a first in both parts of the Natural Science Tripos. After teaching at Manchester Grammar School, Repton, and Leeds University, he was appointed professor of education at the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1950. Mason organised the training of local graduates wishing to enter the teaching profession and was influential in the decision to introduce native language teaching into local schools. In 1957, the task of establishing a branch of the University in Kuala Lumpur was entrusted to him. The University later awarded him an honorary doctorate, and he became known as Dr Mason [1].

Throughout his career, Dr Mason published works on the Malayan educational landscape, the issues concerning the implementation of modern teaching techniques, and the teaching and maintaining of traditional cultures [2]. For instance, The Schools of Malaya surveyed the complex nature of Malaya’s educational landscape during the post-World War II period, including a study of the various educational systems among ethnic and language groups, a survey of the progress in education, and the colonial government’s educational policy [3].

After returning to England, Dr Mason took holy orders at St Augustine’s College, Canterbury and became the founding principal of Christ Church College (now the Canterbury Christ Church University), the first Anglican teacher training college to be created in the 20th century [4]. Dr Mason retired as principal of the College in 1975.

Description of the collection

While working in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Dr Mason took a great interest in the region and travelled throughout Asia. He visited Borneo, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan, taking numerous photographs. He left behind an extensive collection of photographic slides after his death, and his son, Peter, donated the Southeast Asian slides to ISEAS Library for future research.

The Frederic Mason slide collection consists of 880 colour slides including 217 slides of Japan and Hong Kong. The Malayan and Malaysian slides consist of some on tin dredging, rice plantations, and natural landscapes in the Cameron Highlands. The Singapore slides include images of Malay and Hindu wedding ceremonies, the Botanic Gardens, schools and hospitals. The collection also contains photographs of the Grand Palace and temples in Bangkok; volcanoes and Borobudur in central Java; and temples, markets, and the flora and fauna in Saigon.

Most noticeably, the common theme of school buildings and school children in various countries runs through the collection, reflecting Dr Mason’s lifelong interest in education.

Selected images from the Frederic Mason collection:

To view the full collection, log into your SEALionPLUS account or sign up for a complimentary account if you don’t have one yet!

Gregory L. Forth, Anthropologist


Gregory L. Forth is an anthropologist whose research interests are the people of eastern Sumba and the Nage people of central Flores, Indonesia.

Dr Forth obtained his D.Phil. in Social Anthropology from Oxford University in 1980. In 1982, he was a Visiting Professor at Simon Fraser University, Canada [5]. He was also the assistant director of the British Institute in South-East Asia, Bangkok, in 1983-1986. He then joined the faculty at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta, Canada, where he is now professor emeritus [6].
Throughout his academic career, he has published books on religion and cosmology among the Nage people [7], Dutch colonial studies of Flores [8], ethnozoology and ethnotaxonomy among the Nage [9].

Description of the Collection

Dr Forth’s colour slides and photographs were collected during his fieldwork in eastern Sumba in 1975-76, and subsequently in central Flores in 1983-85.

The collection consists of photographs depicting village life among the Nage people of Flores. Some notable photographs include traditional ceremonial posts, gravestones, the marketplace, local buildings and architecture, and a unique augury ritual whereby the village men inspect a pig’s liver to interpret omens. The photos of eastern Sumba have appeared in his book Rindi: An Ethnographic Study of a Traditional Domain in Eastern Sumba [10].

Selected images from the Gregory Forth collection:

To view the full collection, log into your SEALionPLUS account or sign up for a complimentary account if you don’t have one yet!

Other works by Gregory Forth available at ISEAS Library

Dualism and Hierarchy: Processes of Binary Combination in Keo Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). ISEAS Library Call Number: DS632 K47F73.

Images of the Wildman in Southeast Asia: An Anthropological Perspective (London: Routledge, 2008). ISEAS Library Call Number: GR308 F73.

Space and Place in Eastern Indonesia (Canterbury: University of Kent at Canterbury Centre of South-East Asian Studies, 1991) ISEAS Library Call Number: DS503 K37 NO. 16.

The Language of Number and Numerical Ability in Eastern Sumba (Hull Humberside: Centre for South-East Asian Studies, 1985) ISEAS Library Call Number: DS503 O15 NO. 9.


[1] Nigel Watson, Canterbury Christ Church University: The First Forty-Five Years (London: James and James, 2007), 18.
[2] Frederic Mason, “The University of Malaya: A Study in the Transmission of Culture Patterns/L’Universite de la Malaisie,” Civilisations 5, no. 3 (1955): 363–69.
[3] Frederic Mason, The Schools of Malaya, 3rd ed. (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1959). ISEAS Library Call Number: DS591 B12 NO. 3.
[4] Nigel Watson, Canterbury Christ Church University: The First Forty-Five Years (London: James and James, 2007), 16.
[5] Gregory Forth, “Animals, Witches, and Wind: Eastern Indonesian Variations on the ‘Thunder Complex,’” Anthropos 84, no. 1/3 (1989): 89–106.
[6] “Emeritus Faculty,” University of Alberta, Faculty of Arts, Department of Anthropology, accessed February 14, 2024,
[7] Gregory Forth and Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde (Netherlands), Beneath the Volcano: Religion Cosmology and Spirit Classification among the Nage of Eastern Indonesia (Leiden: KITLV Press, 1998). ISEAS Library Call Number: DS611 K82 NO. 177.
[8] Louis Fontijne, Gregory Forth and Han F. Vermeulen, Guardians of the Land in Kelimado: Louis Fontijne’s Study of a Colonial District in Eastern Indonesia (Leiden: KITLV Press, 2004). ISEAS Library Call Number: DS611 K82T NO. 27.
[9] Gregory Forth, Nage Birds: Classification and Symbolism among an Eastern Indonesian People (London: Routledge, 2004). ISEAS Library Call Number: DS632 N35F73.
[10] Gregory Forth, Rindi: An Ethnographic Study of a Traditional Domain in Eastern Sumba (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981). ISEAS Library Call Number: DS611 K82 V. 93

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