British-administered Java and the Counter-Enlightenment (1811-16)

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Thursday 14 June 2018
2.00pm–3.30pm

Venue

Talanoa Room

Speaker

Tze Shiung Ng

Contacts

Tze Shiung Ng

The invasion and occupation of Java by the British East India Company in 1811-16 marks a long prelude to the British founding of Singapore in 1819. Historically, a contiguity had anchored the British experience in Java to the teleological goal of liberalism that flourished with the free port of Singapore. This approach, however, had resulted in a piecemeal and incongruous narrative in which British ideas and agency were ironically absent. We are told that what the British did in Java was to facilitate liberal reforms begun by Franco-Dutch republicans. My thesis has sought to uncover the British actor in this history, by determining the contexts of the policies and language of the three central figures behind the invasion and administration of Java: the Earl of Minto, Thomas Stamford Raffles, and John Leyden. In my seminar, I will show that the actions of the three figures were associated with the philosophical ideas, theories, and arguments from eighteenth-century Britain. Far from being advocates of universal rationalism and material progress, their deeds and ideas portrayed them, in their individual ways, to be three critics of the British Enlightenment. Their critique of political economy, empire, and orientalism, instituted in Java an historically-unique programme of decolonisation, independence, and nation-building.

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