The Presence of the Past

Chronicles, Politics and Culture in Sinhala Life—from the library of Sinhalese scholar C H B Reynolds


Steven Kemper


Cornell University Library, Ithaca, 1991
The Presence of the PastThe Presence of the PastThe Presence of the Past

Printing Details

First edition. Hardback in dustwrapper. 23.5 × 15.5cm, 244pp.

This copy is from the library of C H B Reynolds (1922–2015), a noted linguist of the Sinhalese and Maldivian languages, with his ownership signature to the ffep.

Tracing the evolution of an ancient but ongoing Sri Lankan chronicle, Steven Kemper deepens our understanding of the complex role of the historical past in the rise of nationalist movements. Kemper focuses in particular on the Mahavamsa, a Buddhist historical narrative that has been periodically extended over the last fourteen centuries, most recently in 1977 when President Jayewardene assembled a committee of scholars, bureaucrats, and monks to bring the chronicle up to date.

Kemper is concerned both with the development of Sinhala national identity and with the impact of historical consciousness on Sri Lankan culture and political life today. He discusses Sri Lankan party politics, ethnic conflict between Sinhala Buddhists and the Tamil minority, and political exchanges between the state, the monkhood, and the laity. Kemper argues that in Sri Lanka the past is made tangible through a set of social practices of genuine historical antiquity—chronicle-keeping, maintaining sacred places, and venerating heroes—and that the nationalist invocation of the past gathers its force from the way present-day circumstances impose new meanings on these practices.


Good condition, but with some light wear tot he wrapper, spotted foxing to the pages' top edge and marginal marks by Reynolds, not affecting the text.





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The Presence of the PastThe Presence of the PastThe Presence of the Past

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