Autonomous histories, particular truths

Essays in honor of John R. W. Smail

Edited by Laurie Sears

Reflection on the writing of history by:
Michael Adas
Ben Anderson
Richard M. Eaton
Benedict Kerkvliet
Craig Lockhard
Anthony Reid
Laurie J. Sears
John R. W. Smail
Laura Smail
Paul Stange
Ann Laura Stoler
David Streckfuss
David Sweet
Jean Taylor

“In the field of Southeast Asian history, several intellectual turns have shaped scholarship since the end of World War II. Postwar generations of Euro-American scholars and their Southeast Asian colleagues began to see the scholarship of the colonial period as inherently implicated in the colonizing process. In many historical studies written under Dutch rule, for example, colonial historians told tales of the exploits of Dutchmen (rarely women) in the archipelago. Modern “Indonesian” history was seen to begin, in fact, with the entry of Dutch ships into the trading networks of the South China Sea. After World War II, new generations of scholars attempted to “rectify” the historical record and bring the hazily drawn “lazy natives” into focus. Europeans were erased from the landscape, their role was marginalized or they were re-presented as evil exploiters rather than bearers of civilization. Transferring their focus from the actions of European colonizers in various locales, innovative scholars situated their studies within local Southeast Asian worlds and mentalities.

In 1961, John Smail published what has been hailed as a seminal essay on the writing of Southeast Asian history (reprinted in this volume). in this article, inspired by the Dutch historian Jacob van Leur, Smail introduced some critical ideas into debates about perspective in historical writing. He squarely addressed questions of Eurocentrism and, more importantly, whether Southeast Asians or Europeans were capable of writing history from each other’s points of view.”

—from   the Introduction by Laurie Sears