History of History Department of Yangon University

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The Department of History was founded in 1920 as the name of the Department of Chronicle (Yazawin) while Yangon University was emerged. PHOTO: KYAW ZEYA

By Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja Sithu Dr Khin Maung Nyunt

Part I
As University of Yangon is celebrating its centenary (Diamond Jubilee) in the coming year 2020 December the entire campus is busy with cleaning, repairing, rebuilding, renovating and face-lifting activities . Departments of Academic subjects are also busy with such activities. Besides, they are also writing their histories. Recently, the teaching Department of Archaeology had most fittingly held its Silver Jubilee on July of 2019.
We may safely say that Department of History is as old as University of Yangon. Rangoon College the first Institute of history learning in Burma (Myanmar ) in Rangoon (Yangon ) was an affiliated college of Calcutta University which the British Colonial Government sat up in its Indian Empire. History taught at this College was British and Indian history. No Burmese (Myanmar) history nor Burmese (Myanmar) literature and language were taught.
When University of Rangoon was set up Academic Departments including things Myanmar eg. Myanmar Agriculture, Myanmar Forestry, Myanmar Geography, Myanmar History, Myanmar Archaeology, Myanmar Geology and Myanmar Language and Literature.
Thanks to the combined efforts of the Myanmar and English academicians the neglected Myanmar aspects emerged in University teachings.
In the early days English, European, Chinese and Indian Professors and teachers taught Myanmar history. Professor B.R. Pearn, D.G.E. Hall, S.W.Cocks, G.E.Harvey, Desai, Mr Taw Sein Kho etc. Later Maurice Collis and G.H.Luce appeared. Myanmar students at the Rangoon University of that time were interested in becoming high-salaried administrative career I.C.S (Indian Civil Service) not in academic careers.
When the writer joined the University of Rangoon in 1952 after he passed B.A degree from Mandalay University College it was the Department of Modern History and Political Science. Rangoon University embraced all subjects –Arts, Science, Applied Science and Technical Science. Under it were faculties – Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Vet Science and Faculty of Forestry. The Rector of Rangoon University was both head of Academic and Administration. He had two bodies to assist him, Senate academic body and Council administrative body. Dr Htin Aung was the Rector.

Part II
Going back to history department, U Ba Nyunt was the Professor of Department of Modern History and Political Science. Modern History was history of the world in modern time 18th century to date covering mostly European British and British Empire . Russian and Japan came in later. Myanmar history was a part of English history of British Empire. Political Science had two branches Political Theory and Political Organization. Only in the third year (Junior B.A.) or in Hons class you could take political science if you score good marks in Modern History.
Professor U Ba Nyunt was a versatile man, good in teaching eloquent in speaking Burmese and English, weight lifting, boxing, golf gymnastics, on top of these, a good musician and singer. He played violin among his hit songs recorded on discs Chit Dokha (ချစ်ဒုက္ခ) and Su-Du Ywe (ဆုထူးရွယ်) were unsurpassable.
The writer owes a deep debt of gratitude to him for training in teaching public speaking as well as singing songs. While the writer was the Director General of Fine and Performing Arts, Department of Ministry of Culture Professor U Ba Nyunt together with U Thein Han (Zawgyi), U Wun (Min Thu Wun) and K (U Khin Zaw) gave him many help. His wife Sayamagyi Daw Ohn Khin lived up to 100 years. She also was the writer’s benefactor. Saya U Ba Nyunt’s sons and daughters were also the writer’s friends Ma Ma Oo, Nyi-ma, Win U, Win Nyunt and Kyi Shwin.
Professor U Ba Nyunt always made his lecture as well as speech lively with jokes subtle as well as blatant. He was the writer’s role model.
The next teacher of the writer’s high esteem was Daw Mya Sein M.A. very eminent Lady of early national movement of the country. The daughter of U May Aung, Home member in the British Colonial Government. She was the first and the only woman member of Myanmar delegation to the Round Table Conference at the Lower House (House of Commons) of British Parliament in London. Her speech astounded the entire House of Commons. England at that time was fighting for women’s right to vote let alone appearing in the Commons. Daw Mya Sein demanded Burma be separated from India on the strong ground of ethnic origin history and cultural identities.
This Lady taught the writer how to speak good English by avoiding bombastic usages and cockney English of Lower class. Only standard good English called King’s English or Queen’s English in those days.

Part III
The next two male lecturers of students’ esteem were Dr Kyaw Thet who was always informally dressed long trousers long sleeve shirt without tie. He never prepared his lecture (Far East History and Modern Burma). He would just talk freely. His English was fluent and flawless. Dr Ohn Gaing was just the opposite of Dr Kyaw Thet. He taught us Political Science. He thoroughly prepared his lecture systematically held Tutorials and thoroughly and strictly set Examination questions and held viva exams.
Closely connected with History Department were English Department and Economics Department. Dr Htin Aung, Professor U Myo Min, senior lecturer U Kan Gyi, Mr Pirera, U Khin Maung Latt and Daw Khin Myo Chit were excellent English Teachers of students’ favourite. Their lectures were never boring, always lively. Mr Kan Gyi sometimes sung Kayin folk songs to compare with English folk songs.
Regarding the Department of Economics, Prof Dr Tun Thein and Dr Sundrum were eminent . They lectured economics in easy English Languages, explaining technical economics terms in Burmese.
A year later 1954 a new history department (History of the Far East) was opened. Lectured by Dr Kyaw Thet. So there were two history departments. Professor U Ba Nyunt, Department of Modern History and Political Science and Prof Dr Kyaw Thet, History of Far East and Burma.
Both histories were popular with students. It was the combination system. No majoring system of to-day. History could be taken with both arts and science subjects e.g. Double Maths and History, Physics, Chemistry and History. Triple Literatures (Pali Language and Literature, Burmese Language and Literature, and English Language in Literature or Philosophy, History and Political Science or Modern History, Political Science and English Literature). Far East History, Modern History, Burmese Language and Literature. Students who want to join foreign service or to become ICS later BCS took Modern History Political Science and English Literature. Ko Aung Sun (Thakin Aung San) and some of his colleagues who decided to serve the national cause of Freedom of Mother Country from British Colonial Rule took the combination of Modern History, Political Science (P.S.) and English Literature. Later, Postgraduate Law classes leading to B.L. for two years. Some joined Faculty of Education after B.A. They obtained B.Ed and B.L. So they are proud of their degrees they got B.A.B.L.B.Ed. Besides drop-outs from Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Forestry were allowed to take B.A. B.Sc Degrees. In B.A. they took History, Political Sciences P.S. and English Literature.

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Covocation building of Yangon University.  Photo: Phoe Khwar

Part IV
History was very popular and favourite with students. In those days all gazetted posts of the Government were filled by competitive examinations held by Public Service Commission (P.S.C) ……………. Even if you passed your degrees concerned to get job you had to pass P.S.C. Examinations. There were 3 subjects 1. English 2. Burmese and 3. General Knowledge (which is current affairs both domestic and foreign) plus viva voce. Only those who passed P.S.C Exams were appointed in order of their merits in Examinations. General Knowledge or Current Affairs is nothing but Modern History and Political Science. Candidates attended tuition classes for P.S.C. Exams run by History, Political Science (P.S) and English University Teachers.
History classes at the University run into nearly 20 in the L.A. and ten in the B.A. In addition, there were two different classes 1. History taught in English and 2. History taught in Burmese. But Hons and M.A. classes were in English.
In time of the writer 1955-1960 there were ten students in History (Hons) class namely. 1. Ko Htun Aung Chain 2. Ko Tin Hla 3. Ko Khin Maung Nyunt 4. Ma Ohn Kyi 5. Khin Khin Sein 6. Maggie K 7. Khin Khin Ma 8. Pearl San Lin 8. Daw Aye Kyi 9. Maung Maung Lay all became tutor or lecturing tutor after passing B.A. (Hons) at least 2nd class Frist Division. Lecturing fees was kyats 100 in addition to tutor’s salary.
The writer was lecturing tutor in English section. He was also hall tutor of Sagaing Hostel 2nd floor lodging and messing free for his hall duties. He was quite ok with his salaries and duties. After passing M.A. he was promoted Assistant Lecturer and warden of Sagaing Hall.
In 1955 October with Myanmar Government State Scholarship he was sent to London School of Economics and Political Science (L.S.E.) London University to study for Ph.D. in International Relations (I.R.)
A big farewell party and send off by students and staff of Department and Sagaing Hall were unforgettable events. At the Lewis Street Jetty down town Yangon the writer and two lady assistant lecturers Daw Sein Sein Anthropology Department and Daw Khin Ma Lay Geography Department were ferried to S.S. cargo Salween boat of British Henderson Line.
Long sea voyage exciting also tedious and boring sea sickness funny experiences and wonderful journey through Suez canal the Mediterranean Sea St of Gibraltar English Channel liverpool port to London. The writer wrote an article ‘On S.S. Salween’ and sent it to Rangoon University Annual Magazine of that year. But the writer found that magazine in 1985 when his student Maung Myint Soe Aung bought from night bazaar bookshop in Mandalay.
For nearly 5 years in London, 1956-1960 June the writer was in London. He learnt about history department from his friends. But his London days and his visits to European countries were described in his two travelogue books in Burmese (I, Mr Burma) and (My hitch-hiking in Europe…………) with photo-snap shots he took. The first book had fourth editions and the second runs into third editions.
On arrival back to Yangon in 1962 June, the writer rejoined his Alma Mater Yangon University and mother Department. Many changes had taken place. Departments of Modern History and Political Science and that of Far Eastern History were moved to and grouped under Social Science Faculty together with Economics, Statistics, Anthropology and Sociology. International Relations (I.R.) was already introduced for 2 years diploma course under the joint academics body of History, Political Science, Far Eastern History, Economics, Lawand English Departments. The writer was appointed Lecturer in Political Science and International Relations. In academic year 1963-1964 B.A. and B.A. (Hons) courses in International Relations were introduced.

Part V
1963 saw abrupt changes of Government General Ne Win staged a coup and set up Revolutionary Council before forming one party system and Burmese way to Socialism Government. Everything was nationalized.
Education underwent abrupt changes. English colonial education was condemned slavish education and English Language to be replaced by national language Burmese. English ceased to be the medium of instruction. Subjects that could not be taught in Burmese were dropped from curricula. So International Relations (I.R.) ceased to exist.
The writer under the vicissitudes of his career was appointed Department Head of History and Political Science Moulmein University. Then he was transferred to Institute of Education and Worker’s College. From Moulmein University Head of the Department he was appointed Director-General of Fine and Performing Department, Ministry of Culture.
A jump promotion surpassing Professor and Rector. Next he was also appointed Director-General of Historical Research Department under the same Ministry with only one salary although he held dual charges. Later when Professor of History Mandalay University Dr Than Htun was about to retire he was sent to take Dr Than Htun’s place. Many changes took place. English as a medium of instructions was reintroduced. All subjects were taught in English. So later I.R returned to University Education. So the Rector had to take dual charge of History Department and International Relations Department in Mandalay University. But only one salary. So he became founder of International Relations (I.R.) Department Mandalay University . In those days to get admission into I.R. classes students must have high English speaking, writing and proficiency. In addition, they have to undergo psychological test which examine their physical appearances and cultural qualities. In Yangon University after U Ba Nyunt retired, U Tin Ohn succeeded. Followed by U Htun Aung Chain and Daw Ohn Kyi. Then U Tin Ohn became Deputy Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Mandalay University, Political Science and International Relations and English were reintroduced . The writer then Professor of History and Political Science was also in charge of International Relations. In 1987 the writer was appointed Director-General of Archaeology Department Yangon. He was sent abroad for seminars and conferences on Archaeology. At home he held first International Research paper reading on Myanmar Archaeology at Bagan. Sophia University of Japan sponsored it and research papers were published.
On retirement, the writer was appointed Head of Committee for the writing of the authentic history of Burma by the new military Government headed by Bogyoke Saw Maung and later Bogyoke Hmu Gyi Than Shwe. At the same time, he was appointed member of Myanmar Historical Commission.
Saya U Tin Ohn requested writer to give lecture on Modern History, International Relations and Diplomacy to his staffs and outgoing ambassadors. Later when Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS) was formed the writer became a member of it till today.
During and after U Htun Aung Chain’s Professorship changes took place. English as medium of instructions was reintroduced. All subjects except Burmese are taught in English. International Relations Departments were opened at Yangon and Mandalay Universities. The subject Archaeology was introduced by the joint effort of U Htun Aung Chain and the writer. Later, Department of Teaching Archaeology was opened which elaborated its Silver Jubilee in current year 2019.
History became a very popular subject and favourite of politicians. History Post Graduate Diploma (one year) classes were opened at Yangon and Mandalay Universities. Any graduate Arts, Science, Applied or Technical Science, Medical Doctor, Dentists, Engineering, Politicians, Political Party, Parliamentary even Monks and Nuns attend History Post Graduate Diploma Classes. Four main courses are given 1. Cultural History 2. Political History. 3. Economics History 4. Social History of Myanmar with emphasis on current affairs home and abroad. Professors and teaching staffs are sent out to participate in International Seminars Conferences and Workshops.
Today History Department is in need of new generation of highly qualified staff. Current staffs are in middle age who would retire in few years. New generation of qualified history teachers must be trained by the Government and Cooperation of Foreign Universities especially universities of regional and sub- regional associations such as ASEAN BIMSTED, SAACR, GMS etc. Prof and head of History Department Dr Mo MoThant is doing her best to train new generation.
Hailing the role of History Department in the Centenary Anniversary of Yangon University December 2020

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