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Talks, Seminars, and Articles

How did some species of animals, especially in Southeast Asia, get their names? Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan says that 'many of our English words for forest creatures have their origins in Southeast Asian languages. What sound to English speakers like exotic loanwords are meaningful in their original languages'. He believes that 'by exploring the Southeast Asian etymologies of these names, we can understand how humans have maintained relationships of respect and affinity with forest creatures over the centuries'.

Image by Dušan veverkolog

In this article, I examine a historical text written in northern Sumatra in the mid-17th century, which illustrates some of the complexities of cultural influence at global and local scales. The text is called The Garden of Kings, or Bustan al-salatin in Arabic. It is a 7-volume work commissioned by Sultan Iskandar Thani, the ruler of Aceh between 1637 and 1641. My aim is to illustrate a concrete model for how these cultural factors interacted to shape the way that history was written. I’m interested in the question: what did it mean to write history in the Indian Ocean world?

In this seminar, I propose a new theory of historical practice, by applying historical and philological methods to the inscriptions and manuscripts of premodern Java. My key finding is that historical practices are fundamentally shaped by the conditions in which texts are created, preserved, and transmitted. At the centre of this theory is the realisation that, for the premodern Javanese, the past was precarious. By understanding why the premodern Javanese practised history as they did, we can better interpret their texts and thereby improve our knowledge of the global diversity of historical practice.

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