Rockefeller Shan project

A photo of the monks and project workers at the Shan monastery. Copyright of Susan Conway.

The Shan are a Tai people closely related to the Tai of Thailand, Laos and Yunnan and are one of the ethnic minorities in the Shan States of Myanmar. The Shan are Theravada Buddhists. There is no accurate data but it is estimated that over six million live in the Shan States with a total land area of 155,800 km almost a quarter of the total land area of Myanmar (Burma). More than a million live as legal and illegal immigrants in Thailand. Others are scattered in communities throughout Europe the USA and Australia.

Since the invasion of the Shan States by the Burmese military (Tatmadaw) in the 1960s, the Shan have been subject to land grabbing, illegal extraction of minerals and more recently displacement for dam construction. Violence over the past five years has left at least 100,000 people forcibly evacuated. Reports of human rights abuses continue under the current regime. This project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, aims to capture and preserve this at-risk heritage. The grant had 3 clear outcomes:

1) To implement a new interdisciplinary Masters course on Tai studies commencing in 2018.

2) To set up at SSBU a photographic library and record of Shan material culture (manuscripts, textiles and ritual objects) at present held in monasteries in the Shan States. This library will be the basis of a Shan Studies Research Archive. The program builds on earlier research conducted in the Shan States and by shcolars in Europe and the USA. Research based on this new archive will be published as part of a continuing programme to promote and conserve Shan material culture and to widen knowledge of the subject among students and academics. It will aim to broaden and enhance studies at SSBU and worldwide.

3) Funding for a Shan Studies Conference to be held at the Rockefeller Center Bellagio. The aim is to bring together Shan scholars to create new approaches to Higher Education in Shan Studies.

Visual depiction of the recording of cultural Shan heritage. Photo taken by Susan Conway.


Project details

start date
1 June 2018
end date
31 May 2019

About this project



Image of Mariz Tadros
Mariz Tadros

Director (CREID)

Image of Susan Conway
Susan Conway

Research Associate