The Southeast Asia Cultural Collection (SEACC)

Did you know that ISEAS Library holds a rich collection of photographs that document Southeast Asia’s diverse cultural heritage?

The Southeast Asian Cultural Collection (SEACC) has its origins in the 1980s and was first launched in July 1981 as the Southeast Asian Cultural Research Programme (SEACURP). In the face of the region’s rapid urbanisation and modernization, SEACURP’s goal was to create greater awareness about the importance of the region’s cultural heritage and traditions in order to provoke conversations among planners and other decision-makers about more holistic strategies for national and regional development [i].

The foundation of SEACURP was the collection of over 22,000 photographs and slides, and six filing cabinets of notes from the late American architect Dorothy Pelzer (1915-1972). Pelzer had spent much of the 1960s travelling extensively across Southeast Asia to document traditional dwellings and ways of life. Before her death, she had designated her friend Datuk Lim Chong Keat, a Malaysian architect, to carry on her work [ii]. Datuk Lim became the first project director of SEACURP.

This spirit of documenting the traditional habitats and built-forms of the region carried on into the work of SEACURP, which over the next few years grew rapidly and subsequently merged with the Programme on the Cultural Heritage of Southeast Asia (CULHERSEA), a complementary programme which had focused on other ethnographic and cultural heritage research. The result was Southeast Asia Cultural Programme (SEACUP). At the time of its formation in 1987, this combined archive held an estimated 72,700 photographs, negatives, and slides and 650 audio and video recordings [ii].

Most of the materials in SEACUP were primary research materials assembled by researchers who had carried out fieldwork in the region, and thus SEACUP focused on three main themes: habitats, folk traditions, and local history and memoirs [iii]. The selection of images below reflects these themes.

In the 1990s, the programme started to wind down as research priorities shifted. It was no longer actively collecting materials by 1996 [iv], though the Library has continued to maintain this valuable collection of original ethnographic research materials. Around the year 2000, the programme was renamed the Southeast Asian Cultural Collection (SEACC), by which it is now still known [v]. Today, SEACC has around 84,000 photographs, slides, and negatives, including the Made Wijaya collection. Much of the archive has been digitised and is available for reference at the Library.

Reflecting the wide cultural diversity throughout Southeast Asia, SEACC remains an invaluable documentation archive of communities and ways of life across the region.


Village, North of Choreo, Vietnam, c.1985. Photo by Jacques Dournes. JD08602
Sulu culture and built forms, the Philippines, date unknown. Photo by Francisco Mañosa. FMI08502
Lumbung (Rice barn) near Londa, Toraja, Indonesia. 1965. The roof has a strong upward curve. There is a short vertical hanging spar to support it. The platform is of bamboo pipes and split bamboo. Photo by Dorothy Pelzer. DP105_07
Dwellings in Flores, Indonesia, date unknown. Photo by Lim Chong Keat. LCK007304

Ways of working

Sailing boats (prahu), Indonesia, 1980-1981.  Photo by David E. Hughes. DH03514
A Karen woman weaving. Ban Huey Sina, Mae Teun, Mae Ramahd District, Tak Province, Thailand, 1985. Photo by Suvit Rungvisai. SR002464
Karen girl threshing rice in a wet-rice field, Northern Thailand, 1980. Photo by Ananda Rajah. AR001317
Chui Ho Lum, medicinal tea. Chun Chun, 125 Sago Lane. Helper pouring from a collection of pots, 1983, Singapore. Photo by Henry Wong and Michael Neo. MS_HW_MN002144

Everyday life

Young Karen girl baby-sitting her younger brother, 1980, Thailand. Photo by Ananda Rajah. AR001359
Orang gadis at a Minangkabau wedding, 1980. Balai Cacang, Indonesia. Photo by Cecilia Ng. CN000185
Bathing place Rumah Chang, Sarawak, Malaysia, 1984. Photo by Victor T. King. VK002061
Releasing captive sparrows at the foot of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon (Yangon) as a merit-making act, 1985. Photo by Tin Maung Maung Than. TMMT002575


[i] Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS Annual Report 1985-1986 (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1986).

[ii] P. Lim Pui Huen, “The Southeast Asian Cultural Programme of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies,” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 4, no. 1 (1989): 135–45.

[iii] Ong Choo Suat and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Southeast Asian Cultural Heritage: Images of Traditional Communities (Singapore: Programme on the Cultural Heritage of Southeast Asia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies 1986). ISEAS Library Call No.: DS509.5 O59

[iv] P. Lim Pui Huen and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies: a commemorative history 1968-1998 (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1998). ISEAS Library Call No.: DS524.8 S6I58      

[v] Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS Annual Report 1999-2000 (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2000).

Best effort has been made to ensure the external links provided are valid as of collation. We welcome your suggestions to help us improve this service. Please take a moment to give us your feedback via our feedback form.

In making materials available online, the ISEAS Library always does its best to meet the requirements of copyright and other laws. If you have concerns about any material that ISEAS Library has placed online and want to suggest that it be taken down, please contact us at