Mr Wei Wen Wong1
1The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Archipelagic Southeast Asia provides a good example of how historical boundaries and the identities of nation states were inherited from the borders that were drawn by colonial powers. Colonial historians played a crucial part in this process by writing the histories of these regions, which served as a base for the national histories of the countries that would emerge out of these colonial territories. I examine how this development occurred in Malaya (now Malaysia and Singapore) by analysing the historical writings of the prominent British scholar-administrator, Sir Richard Olaf Winstedt (1878– 1966), and how the region’s historical narratives reflect the framework that he established. His narratives were essentially adapted and localised in Malaysia by local historians, partly because they served the mono-cultural vision of the country’s past that the ruling Malay elites wanted to promote. More broadly, Winstedt’s legacy for Malaysian and Singaporean history is an example of how colonial historians helped create national histories within the empires that they served, providing the ideological base for the nation-building projects of post-colonial societies. It raises questions that not only concern Asia’s historiography at the present but also for the future: how far have we gone in decolonising our history curriculum and national narratives on history? How far can we go?
(Wilbert) Wong Wei Wen is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, School of History, College of Arts and Social Sciences. He has a BA in History with First Class Honours from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Wilbert’s research and publications focus on the history of cross-cultural encounters, particularly on colonialism and its connection to intellectual history.