Thai politics in clappers, whistles and slogans

Thai politics in clappers, whistles and slogans
Collecting ephemera that reflects the political crisis in Thailand
4 March 2014

The Thai collection at the NLA offers extraordinary resources for researchers, especially in the fields of the humanities and social sciences. In addition to items you would expect to find in a library, such as books and journals, we have been making significant progress since 2008 in building our collections of topical ephemeral materials.

Ephemeral items we now hold include bandanas, banners, masks, handbills, booklets, posters, t-shirts, clappers, whistles and similar colourful expressions of Thai polity in this era of public protest and contested political space.

Political supporter whistles
Examples of political supporter whistles

While we have collected Australian and other ephemera for decades, a staff acquisitions visit to Bangkok in the midst of the turbulent events that led to the occupation of the Suvarnabhumi Airport (November 2008) and the appointment of the Abhisit government peaked our interest in trying to acquire some of the ephemeral materials that were being distributed.

The materials were collected by the Library’s usual book suppliers in Thailand. They visited various meeting sites, election booths, sometimes the shopfronts of individual political groups or parties, and individuals who had joined in at rallies. These kinds of materials are rarely collected in Thailand, and outside the country are usually seen only incidentally in news reports, however we were determined to make a special effort to collect and preserve them for the future. Consequently, we now have a very interesting Thai ephemera collection which is available for anybody to inspect at the Library for research or general interest.

Political slogans on bandanas
Examples of political slogans on bandanas

We have arranged the ephemera into the following collections:

  • People’s Alliance for Democracy or the Yellow Shirts.
  • United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship or the Red Shirts
  • Thailand General Elections 2011
  • Thai Politics 2011 -

Via the Library website, you can find links to the finding aids and catalogue records for each collection. The finding aids contain detailed information on the items including colour photographs, while the catalogue records provide an overall description of the collection and allow you to request access to the material.

In Thailand political ephemera is very much still in use and changing all the time to reflect the shifts in politics and ideas. We hope that our collection will play a vital part in telling the social and political history of Thailand in the early 21st century. Ephemera items may be branded as non-traditional sources, but they are a real reflection of the political life of the people and their struggles.

Display of various political ephemera
Display of various political ephemera

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We were in Thailand recently( February) and had a foot massage amidst the protest area. What we noticed as we wandered back to the train station post massage was how many different forms of decorative 'Thai' ephemera was available - hair ties, banners, hats, caps, badges, rosettes, labels, fans, all for sale at the stalls there, in the stripes of the Thai Flag. What I also discovered is that twice a day the national anthem is played and if you are within earshot Thais stand to attention respectfully. I think at 8 am and 6pm daily.