Publications

Journal Articles & Book Chapters

The Indonesian archipelago plays a major role in the global history of natural disaster. This paper investigates a diverse range of sources from Java and Bali to ascertain cultural attitudes to disasters, the impacts of disasters on society, and practices of recording disaster events. Disasters were closely associated with political change and divine activity. The impacts of disaster, while sometimes severe, were normalized in Indonesian society through practices of augury and tactics of resilience. The paper’s culture-focused approach allows for more reliable interpretations of traditional records of specific disaster events, such as a major eruption of Bali’s Agung volcano in 1710–11.

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Raffles as a Historian of Java
in Raffles Revisited, ed. Stephen Murphy (2021)

Thomas Stamford Raffles’ The History of Java (1817) is often cited as the beginning of the orientalist study of Java. I will explore here Raffles’ methods as a researcher of Javanese history. I argue that Raffles struggled to grasp the complexities of the Javanese traditions that he drew on. This essay begins with a discussion of indigenous practices of history writing, followed by an explanation of the divergent evolution of Javanese historical traditions up to the early nineteenth century. Finally, I assess Raffles’ handling of these traditions, with a particular focus on problems of translation and interpretation.

Oriental Philology after Orientalism
Journal of the Society for Asian Humanities  (2021)

One can hardly imagine a more typically Orientalist discipline than philology. Thanks to the critical programme of Edward Said and those inspired by him in the late twentieth century, we now understand how Oriental philology went fist in glove with the violence of colonialism. How do we live with the original sin of Oriental philology, which is rooted in the expropriation of the written heritage of Asian societies? Can we reconcile the epistemological premises of philology with indigenous ways of handling texts, or will they always be each other’s Other? What possible use does today’s world have for such a culpable and disengaged discipline as Oriental philology?

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Image by Bob Brewer

The Word 'Orangutan': Old Malay Origin or European Concoction?
Bijdragen tot de Land-, Taal- en Volkenkunde (2020)

The word ‘orangutan’ in European languages originates from a Malay expression meaning ‘forest person’, but many scholars have argued that it was not in genuine usage among the indigenous peoples of the archipelago. Instead, it is widely believed that the word ‘orangutan’, as a term for the ape, resulted from either an invention or a misunderstanding on the part of European visitors in the seventeenth century CE. I argue against this view, using data from Old Javanese texts and historical-linguistic analysis to show that orangutans have been referred to by this term since the first millennium CE. My findings indicate that the modern use of the word ‘orangutan’ has much older roots in Malay than has been recognized previously.

The distinctive historical traditions of Southeast Asia present an opportunity to bring new insights to existing theories of history. In this article, I offer a theoretical approach to historical temporality that is grounded in close readings of texts from this region by focusing on how these texts construe temporality through choices of narrative organization. I develop a toolkit for analyzing the temporalities in historical texts from equatorial Southeast Asia. This approach leads to a theoretical stance that supersedes the conceptual dichotomies of linear/cyclical time and empty/full time, in favor of a more pluralistic understanding of temporalities.

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Traditional historical chronicles from island Southeast Asia are crucial sources for our understanding of the region’s pre-modern history. These chronicles were produced in contexts of textual practice that are unfamiliar to modern historians, which can result in erroneous interpretations of their historical meaning. In this article, I present a method for reading the region’s chronicles that treats them as conglomerate texts, which consist of fragments of earlier texts that have been combined into new wholes. I illustrate the usefulness of this interpretive approach by examining the Pararaton, one of the main sources for the history of the late medieval kingdom of Java with its capital at Majapahit. These findings show that reading chronicles as conglomerate texts not only sheds light on their textual evolution, but also improves our understanding of the historical realities they refer to.