Born Heinz (Jindrich) Benda in 1919, Harry J. Benda was editor
of Yale's Southeast Asia Monograph series from 1960 through the
turbulent years of the Vietnam War, until his untimely death in
September, 1971. Benda received his PhD from Cornell University.
Appointed to Yale University in 1959, he achieved the rank of
full professor in 1966.
"...Harry Benda's association with Asian studies stemmed
from bitter accident, for he had been of a Prague Jewish family;
when Hitler took over Czechoslovakia, his father arranged for
Harry's exodus by getting him a job in a Dutch trading firm in
the East Indies. A brother was the only other member of the family
to escape death under Nazi rule. In Java, Benda settled down to
learn the life of a European merchant, but he had too lively a
mind to be content with latter-day colonial society. He saw the
remnants of a great indigenous tradition around him, and the stirrings
of a new life; he began to meet scholars who were interested in
Indonesian culture and from them developed a broad intellectual
interest in the people of Java. Many of these intellectuals vanished
into concentration camps with the coming of the Japanese; and
in 1943 Benda joined them. For many of those intellectuals who
survived the camps, the experience was a time of learning and
reorientation; so also for Benda, whose interest in Indonesian
society deepened into the determination to pursue its study as
- Ruth T. Mcvey (1972):
"Harry J. Benda: An Obituary," The Journal of Asian
Studies / Volume31/ Issue03 / May 1972, pp 589-590 (Cambridge
"...In editing Yale's Southeast
Asia Studies Monograph series, (Benda) broadened considerably
the possiblility for other, particularly young, specialists on
the area to publish significant research, and thereby made available
a larger body of materials useful in teaching.
".....He also played an important role in stimulating research
among scholars from the countries of Southeast Asia, helping several
them to pursue their studies and research at Yale, and also enlarging
the opportunities for others to carry out research in Southeast
itself. The outstanding example of this effort was in Singapore,
where the successful launching of its Institute
of Southeast Asian
Studies (ISEAS) owed much to Harry Benda's efforts. He devoted
enormous energy, time, and resourcefulness to helping get the
Institute firmly established and then served for fifteen months
as its first director. Moreover, along with his two successors,
he did much to ensure that, once established, the Institute's
research would be marked by breadth and objectivity.
"....Harry Benda's contribution to developing Southeast
Asian studies was evidenced especially in the time and energy
which he devoted over the course of many hears to strengthening
this field at Yale, (and) he took justifiable pride in his central
role in establishing a strong graduate program there. . . . Harry
Benda has made Yale known throughout the world for the quality
of the young scholars whom he trained."
McT Kahin (1972): "In Memoriam: Harry J. Benda," Indonesia,
volume 13 (April 1972), pp 211-212 (PDF of full article
also: W.F. Wertheim (1972): "Harry J. Benda,"
Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Voldenkunde 128 (1972), nol 2/3,
Leiden, pp 214-218.
Council on Southeast Asia Studies, Yale
Sterling Memorial Library
The records consist of correspondence, subject files, student
and faculty files, and printed material documenting Professor
Harry J. Benda's directorship of the Southeast Asia Studies
program at Yale. Also included are files of Karl
J. Pelzer, chairman of the Council on Southeast Asia Studies.