Serat Sela Rasa 1804

Southeast Asian perspectives on British and Dutch colonialism: New research project

Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia program member Maarten Manse has been awarded a three-year project grant by the Swedish Research Council to explore the role of Southeast Asian actors in British and Dutch colonialism in the region.

The project, entitled Contestation or Collaboration? Southeast Asian actors and ideas in building colonial empires, c. 1700–1942, will be closely associated with the Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia Program. The purpose of the project is to investigate how Southeast Asian actors experienced and influenced the processes of empire building by the Dutch and British colonial powers in maritime Southeast Asia (present-day Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei) from around 1700 until the end of the colonial period.

Centuries of British and Dutch colonialism in Southeast Asia rendered enormous archival collections. However, to date, historians have been prone to use abundantly available transcripts and copies of archival materials stored in Europe, rather than local sources housed in Asia. Asian ideas present in these archives have been overlooked, leading to prejudiced Eurocentric history writing.

This three-year project, hosted at the Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, departs from Asian rulers and elites and their ideas about the political legitimacy of colonialism. It uses digitized colonial archives and innovative automatic Text and Entity Recognition to compare and recognize such ideas within copies and transcripts of treaties, contracts and surrounding documentation in colonial archives and Asian manuscripts. This discloses hitherto unrecognized patterns of indigenous views on colonialism within the structures of colonial archives, which helps transcending the often-replicated Eurocentric biases of the archives. The project elucidates how indigenous political elites, such as male and female sultans, princes, grandees and advisors, made sense of colonization processes and the legalisation of empire, spurring more polyphonic histories of colonial empire, globalization, and international relations.