Erik Seidenfaden and his Quest for Knowledge

Gendarmerie Officer, Amateur Scholar and the Siam Society


  • Søren Ivarsson Chiang Mai University
  • Sing Suwannakij Chiang Mai University


This article explores Erik Seidenfaden’s life and scholarly career in Thailand. Seidenfaden arrived in the country in 1906 to take up a position as officer in the provincial gendarmerie and resided there until he returned to Denmark in 1946. During his forty years’ residence, Seidenfaden became an influential amateur scholar in the fields of ethnography and archaeology. He was an active member of the Siam Society, a prolific contributor to the JSS and, for a short period, the Society’s president. The aim of this article is to present a broader assessment of Seidenfaden and his scholarly work. In doing so, we will present new knowledge on his life history and how he refashioned himself as an amateur scholar, and contributed to turning Siam into a knowable object.


Unpublished material by Erik Seidenfaden

Diaries. 1900-1958.

Levnedsbeskrivelse. 1932. ”Levnedsbeskrivelse – Erik Seidenfaden Autobiography – Erik Seidenfaden”, Ordenskapitlet, Danmark The Chapter of the Royal Orders of Chivalry, Denmark.

Published material

Annual. 1924. “Annual Report for 1923”, Journal of the Siam Society, 18:1, 70-77.

Aymonier, Étienne. 1901. Le Cambodge II: Les provinces Siamoises. Paris: E. Leroux.

Baker, Chris (ed.). 2004. The Society of Siam: Selected Articles for the Siam Society’s Centenary. Bangkok: The Siam Society.

Baker, Chris and Pasuk Phongpaichit. 2005. A History of Thailand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boriphandh Dhuraratsadorn. 1923. “The White Meo – Translated by Major E. Seidenfaden”, Journal of the Siam Society, 17:3, 153-199.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe. Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chandr Gandasena. 1923. “The Red Karens. An Answer to the Society’s Questionnaire – Translated by E.J. Walton”, Journal of the Siam Society, 17:2, 74-99.

Chan Sungsi Yanada and Luang Nonwakorn. 1925. “The Yao – Translated by E.G. Sebastian”, Journal of the Siam Society, 19:2, 83-128.

Cohn, Bernard S. 1996. Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge. The British in India. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Coughlin, Richard J. 1960. “Review of The Thai Peoples. Book 1”, Far Eastern Survey, 29:5, 79-80.

Dagens Nyheder. 1934. “Planer om en dansk Ekspedition til Siam Plans About a Danish Expedition to Siam”, Dagens Nyheder 7.8 1934, 4.

Edwards, Penny. 2008. Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860-1945. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.

Frankfurter, Otto. 1904. “The Aims of the Society”, Journal of the Siam Society, 1, 1-6.

Gerini, Gerolamo E. 1904. “To Contributors”, Journal of the Siam Society, 1, 228-232.

____. 1905. “Comment”, Journal of the Siam Society, 2:1, 84-100.

Graham, Walter A. 1912. Siam. A Handbook of Practical, Commercial, and Political Information. London: Alexander Moring, Limited.

Hutchinson, Edward W. and Erik Seidenfaden. 1935. “The Lawa in Northern Siam”, Journal of the Siam Society, 27:2, 153-182.

International Court of Justice. 1962. Case Concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand).

Ivarsson, Søren. 2008. Creating Laos: The Making of a Lao Space between Indochina and Siam, 1860-1945. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

____. 2016. ‘La Gendarmerie Royale du Siam et ses Officiers Danois, Instruments du Controle d’un Territoire et de ses Habitants, 1897-1926’, in A-D Houte and J-N Luc (eds), Les gendarmeries dans le monde, de la Révolution française à nos jours. Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 213-224.

Jonsson. Hjorfeifur. 2000. “Review article”, Journal of the Siam Society, 88:1&2, 222-231.

Kerr, A. and Erik Seidenfaden. 1950. Thailand: Nature and Industry: Ethnology. Bangkok: Ministry of Commerce.

Keyes, Charles F. 1978. “Ethnography and Anthropological Interpretation in the Study of Thailand”, in Eliezer B. Ayal (ed.), The Study of Thailand: Analyses of Knowledge, Approaches, and Prospects in Anthropology, Art History, Economics, History, and Political Science. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 1-60.

Lajonquière, Étienne Lunet de. 1902. Inventaire Descriptif des Monuments du Cambodge, Tome I. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale.

____. 1907. Inventaire Descriptif des Monuments du Cambodge, Tome II. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale.

Lewis, Su Lin. 2013. “Between Orientalism and Nationalism: The Learned Society and the Making of ‘Southeast Asia’”, Modern Intellectual History, 10:2, 353-374.

Michaud, Jean. 2013. “French Military Ethnography in Colonial Upper Tonkin (Northern Vietnam), 1897-1904, Journal of Vietnamese Studies, 8:4, 1-46.

Peleggi, Maurizio. 2002. The Politics of Ruins and the Business of Nostalgia. Bangkok: White Lotus Press.

Petchabunburi, Phra. 1921. “The Lawa or Chaubun in Changvad Petchabun – Translated from the Siamese by Major E. Seidenfaden”, Journal of the Siam Society, 14:1, 13-51.

Philips, Herbert P. 1960. “Review of The Thai Peoples, Book 1”, The Journal of Asian Studies, 19:4, 467-468.

Said, Edward W. 1985. Orientalism. Western Conception of the Orient. London: Penguin Books.

Seidenfaden, Erik.

____. 1904. “Kongo”, Nationaltidende 7.12.

____. 1922. ”Complément à l’inventaire descriptif des monuments du Cambodge”, Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, 22, 55-99.

____. 1923. “An Excursion to Phimai”, Journal of the Siam Society, 17:1, 1-19.

____. 1927. Guide to Bangkok with Notes on Siam. Bangkok: The Royal State Railways of Siam. Third Edition.

____. 1929. Guide to Nakon Patom. Bangkok: The Royal State Railways of Siam.

____. 1931. Guide to Petchaburi. Bangkok: The Royal State Railways of Siam.

____. 1932. “A Siamese Account of the Construction of the Temple on Khao Phanom Rung”, Journal of the Siam Society, 25:1, 83-108.

____. 1935. “Anthropological and Ethnological Research Work in Siam”, Journal of the Siam Society, 28:1, 15-18.

____. 1939. “Siam’s Tribal Dresses”, Journal of the Siam Society, 31:2, 169-175.

____. 1952. “The Kui People of Cambodia and Siam”, Journal of the Siam Society, 39:2, 144-181.

____. 1958. The Thai Peoples, Book 1. The Origins and Habitats of the Thai Peoples with a Sketch of their Material and Spiritual Culture. Bangkok: The Siam Society.

____. 1999. Det Kongelige Siamesiske Provinsgendarmeri og dets Danske Officer The Royal Siamese Provincial Gendarmerie and its Danish Officers. København: Poul Kristensens Forlag.

Sing Suwannakij and Søren Ivarsson. 2020. “Inscribing Siam: The State of Documentary and Spatial Practices”, Modern Asian Studies, 54:5, 1596-1630.

Smyth, H. Warrington. 1994. Five Years in Siam, from 1891-1896. Bangkok: White Lotus, reprint.

Streckfuss. David. 1993. “The Mixed Colonial Legacy in Siam: Origins of Thai Racialist Thought, 1890-1910”, in Laurie Sears (ed.), Autonomous Histories, Particular Truths. Essays in Honor of John R.W. Smail. Madison-Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 125-153.

____. 2012. “An ‘Ethnic’ Reading of ‘Thai’ History in the Twilight of the Century-Old Official ‘Thai’ National Model”, South East Asia Research, 20:3, 305-327.

Sørensen, Max Lyngbeck. 1947. “Oprøret i Hollandsk Indien er nærmest en ren operette The uprising in Dutch India is almost a pure operetta”. Nationaltidende 25.7.

Thongchai Winichakul. 1994. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

____. 2000a. “The Others Within: Travel and Ethno-Spatial Differentiation of Siamese Subjects 1885-1910”, in Andrew Turton (ed.), Civility and Savagery: Social Identity in Tai States. London: Curzon Press, 38-62.

____. 2000b. “The Quest for ‘Siwilai’: A Geographical Discourse of Civilizational Thinking in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Siam”, The Journal of Asian Studies, 59:3, 528-549.

Unknown. 1925. “The Lu – Translated by R.S. Le May”, Journal of the Siam Society, 19:3, 159-184.

Unknown. 1943. “Regarding the Customs, Manners, Economics and Languages of the Kha (So) and Phuthai Linving in Ampho’ Kutchinarai, Changvat Kalasindhu, Monthon Roi Et – Translated by Major E. Seidenfaden”, Journal of the Siam Society, 34:2, 145-179.

Walton, E.J. 1922. “The Yang Kalo’ (Karieng) or White Karens”, Journal of the Siam Society, 16:1, 39-89.

Wæhle, Espen. 2014. “Scandinavian Agents and Entrepreneurs in the Scramble for Ethnographica During Colonial Expansion in the Congo”, in Kirsten Alsaker Kjerland and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen (eds), Navigating Colonial Orders. Norwegian Entrepreneurship in Africa and Oceania, New York & Oxford: Berghahn, 339-367.






Research Highlights