Indonesia’s Volcanoes as Sites of Knowledge Production: A History

Susie Protschky

1Monash University, Clayton, Australia,

Volcanos feature prominently in Indonesian histories as sites of civilisation and cosmological significance. Volatile places of making and unmaking, volcanos figure profoundly in Indonesian art, performance, religion and mythology for their capacity to wreak disaster, while also forming the cradles of prosperous kingdoms and sacred spaces. This paper examines how volcanoes emerged as important sites of knowledge production from the nineteenth century onwards, and became integrated into specialised fields of scientific, commercial, and military-administrative knowledge production. I survey how Indonesian labour on and knowledge about volcanos formed the basis of a range of foundational endeavours in the early twentieth century, from scientific expeditions to early tourism. In doing so, I aim to begin situating volcanos within broader environmental and labour histories of Southeast Asia, extend scholarship on colonial and postcolonial discourses of ‘the tropics’, and bring Indonesian volcanoes into histories of science and global industrialisation.


Susie Protschky is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at Monash University (Australia). She specialises in histories of Indonesia and Dutch imperialism. She is the author of Photographic Subjects: Monarchy and Visual Culture in Colonial Indonesia (Manchester University Press, 2019) and Images of the Tropics: Environment and Visual Culture in Colonial Indonesia (Brill/KITLV Press, 2011), and editor (with Tom van den Berge) of Modern Times in Southeast Asia, c. 1920s¬–1970s (Brill, 2018). The Australian Research Council funded her project, ‘Disaster, human suffering and colonial photography’ (DP170100948, 2017–19).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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