Towards Reinventing Indonesian Nationalist Historiography

Rommel Curaming


The 1965 publication of An Introduction to Indonesian Historiography (Soedjatmoko et al. 1965) was a remarkable accomplishment in view of the comparative paucity of scholarship on other Southeast Asian countries at the time. Since then, however, only a handful of scholarly works on historiography have been published and none approximates the candidness, breadth, and depth of the Soedjatmoko volume, which was translated into Bahasa Indonesia in 1995 (Sartono 1982; 2001a; Frederick and Soeroto 1982; Alfian et al. 1992; Nichterlein 1974; Abdullah 1988a; 2001a; Reid and Marr 1979; Klooster 1985). A number of factors could account for this, but the repression of the New Order period was probably one of the more important. An atmosphere relatively free of political manipulation seems necessary for the healthy growth of scholarly projects, especially ones so vulnerable to manipulation as history writing. With the Suharto regime and many of its political restrictions now in the past, it is time to ask what difference its demise makes for the development of Indonesian historiography as practiced in Indonesia. 

Older versions of Indonesian history are of course being challenged, but the freer atmosphere is also proving conducive to re-examining the long-established framework within which re-writing might proceed. Like most historiographies that developed in post-colonial societies, that of Indonesia is patently and intensely nationalistic. Known as Indonesiasentris, nationalist historiography refers to the whole exercise of history writing whose primary aim and/or ultimate result, whether intended or not, is recognition and justification of the legitimate existence of Indonesia as a nation-state. Central to this project is the effort to create, maintain, and promote a national identity deemed fitting for such an entity. It is in reference to this orientation that signs of reform are appearing, prompted, among other things, by the need to purge the history-writing enterprise of its close association with the New Order. The reform has been initiated by a small number of historians who are well placed to effect possibly lasting change in the character and future development of Indonesian nationalist historiography. As the reform is still in an early stage, I will try to make sense of its emerging character and to speculate on the direction it might take, based on recent published and unpublished papers, a series of workshops held at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), and interviews with a number of Indonesian historians.

The Making of a Tradition

The Indonesian nation-state is relatively young, as is the historiography that underpins its formation. Common historical accounts trace the development of Indonesian nationalist historiography to pre-war anti-colonial, historical-literary works and speeches of early nationalists like Muhammad Yamin, Sanusi Pane, and Sukarno (Reid 1979; Sartono 1982; Abdullah and Surjomihardjo 1985). Only few of these were historical in form and intent, but the ideas propounded in them unmistakably found their way into the bedrock of nationalist historiography whose development gained impetus under the aegis of Japanese occupation (Klooster 1982). In the years following independence, the fiercely anti-colonial atmosphere furthered the development of such historiography. In due time, it assumed a position of orthodoxy that ensured a lasting impact on the future course of Indonesian writing. It was perhaps Muhammad Yamin’s works (1950; 1953) that best exemplify the general character of this early stage – romantic, ultra-nationalistic, and some would say pre-scientific. This kind of historiography may have become quickly dominant, but critiques were not lacking. Soedjatmoko stood out for his eloquent and compelling critique of the effort to make history a handmaiden of the nationalist project. In a landmark First National Seminar in 1957, the tension between methodologically sound, “scientific” history and its ideologically-informed nationalist counterparts came to the fore. Asked to speak on the philosophy that ought to inform history writing, Soedjatmoko and Yamin took clearly opposing sides. The former warned forcefully against the danger of allowing history to be used to promote nationalist projects and pushed for strict adherence to standard historical methodology (Soedjatmoko 1960). Yamin asserted in equally strong terms the need for Indonesian history to be written from a nationalist perspective and to help promote national consciousness and unity (Yamin 1957). The tension between these positions has been an enduring and defining fixture of the development of Indonesian historiography.

A remarkable accomplishment: An Introduction to Indonesian Historiography
A remarkable accomplishment: An Introduction to Indonesian Historiography

According to most accounts, the next stage of Indonesian historiography is best characterized by the dominance of a multi-dimensional social science approach pioneered by Sartono Kartodirdjo and heralded by the second national seminar held in 1970. Taufik Abdullah points out that the first seminar was known for “big ideas,” while the second ushered in an era characterized by the production of empirical and creditable historical output (Abdullah 2001a). Over the next three decades, the influence of the “Sartono school” proved so dominant that Asvi Warman Adam, a promising younger historian, has recently dubbed this period the “Second Wave.” It followed the first, de-colonizing wave, aimed specifically at obliterating vestiges of Dutch colonial historiography, and was succeeded by the current, third wave, characterized by the proliferation of different versions of history, including “history of the victims” written by, for, and from the viewpoint of those who suffered atrocities under the New Order regime (Adam 2000).

The multi-dimensional, social science approach has a number of major characteristics. First, it aims to be national and Indonesia-centric in perspective in contrast to colonial historiography that took natives, Indonesia, or places within what would eventually become Indonesia as peripheral to the historical narrative. Second, it is multi-dimensional in that historical events are explained as the outcome of complicated interplay among social, economic, cultural, political, religious, and other factors. This went against the tide of more conventional historians, of whom Yamin was exemplary, who gave “excessive” weight to political factors, thereby overemphasizing “big men” at the expense of the common people. Third, it is multi- and inter-disciplinary in approach. Theories from various social science disciplines are deliberately sought to enhance historical explanation. Again, this is in sharp contrast to the basically non-theoretical and descriptive approach of the earlier group. Fourth, it aims strictly to observe standard, “scientific,” historical methodologies. Fifth, and perhaps not by design, it is seen by observers such as Kuntowijoyo, Adam, and Bambang Purwanto as apolitical, politically neutral, or, worse, politically irrelevant. (More detailed discussion of the social science approach can be found in Sartono 2001a; 1994; 1982; Abdullah 1988a; 1994; 2001a; and Abdullah and Surjomihardjo 1985.)

The standard account of the development of Indonesian historiography, as summarized above, is problematic on a number of levels. It almost entirely ignores the continuing dominance of the nationalist tradition as represented by Yamin, while exaggerating the influence of the Sartono school. In fact, the putative reign of the Sartono school is more like an image projected from a certain angle that presents a partial and misleading picture. Looking over the whole terrain of Indonesian history, trying to identify what kind of historical information circulates and is actually consumed by the general public, we may be surprised that the supposedly dominant Sartono school finds little expression in either academic books and textbooks or popular media such as newspapers and magazines, all convenient indicators of people’s historical consciousness. (My concern here is academic nationalist historiography. See van Klinken [2001], who views nationalist historiography from a political vantage point and equates it with a long tradition of ideologically informed history writing in which serious academic history occupies no greater than a marginal position. His approach no doubt illuminates the politics involved in history writing during and immediately after Suharto’s regime, but I believe that in the current atmosphere, there is hope that history conforming to strict standards of historical methodology will gradually assume a position of greater importance, if not ultimate dominance.)

There are a good number of home-grown historians trained in the history department of Universitas Gadja Madah (UGM) under the guidance of Sartono himself who have made a mark in the profession. There are also those trained abroad, such as Taufik Abdullah (Cornell), Joko Suryo (Monash), and Bambang Purwanto (SOAS), who are at least in principle amenable to the set of ideas and methods proposed by Sartono – ideas and methods recognized by the majority of Indonesian historians over the past three decades as the “holy grail.” Even so, political and militarized versions of history easily dominate the historical landscape. These have been written by military historians, “popular” historians of various ideological positions, and University of Indonesia (UI) historians. The presence of Sartono school adherents, such as Adri Lapian, in the UI Department of History makes it difficult to generalize, but the paramount influence of Nugruho Nutosusanto has given rise to the impression, especially among UGM historians, that it conspired with the New Order regime in installing and maintaining a state-sponsored historiography.

The situation in Indonesia is hardly unique. Accounts of the development of historiography in the Philippines reveal the similar problems. These accounts are mostly produced by historians from the Department of History of the University of the Philippines, the dominant department in the country. It has been easy for these writers to equate historiographical development in their own department with that of the whole country. It may be more fruitful to regard historiographical accounts that emanate from dominant history departments such UGM and UP as projections of desire or wishes of the dominant group of historians, rather than as a reliable map of the whole historiographic terrain.

The de facto dominance of political and militarized history is easily attributed to the overpowering influence of New Order politics on historical discourses and should therefore not surprise us. However, what is of interest is the disjuncture between the standard account and what I will call, for lack of better term, a “closer-to-reality” account. In the latter, the Sartono school is just one, and by no means dominant, of several identifiable streams of history writing. In perspective, the military-UI-popular historians share with the Sartono school Indonesia-centrism, and both contribute to the nation-building efforts of the state – the former as an active agent and the latter as a passive partner. Methodologically, military-UI-popular history diverges from the Sartono school in its avowed emphasis on “big man”-dominated political history and in its preference for descriptive, non-theoretical narrative. Politically, it proved amenable to regime-justification efforts of the state and was less than resistant to ideological influences, arguably making it a successor to nationalist historiography in the tradition of Muhammad Yamin. On the other hand, for its aspiration to “scientific” historical methodology, I am inclined to regard the Sartono school as adhering closer to the path suggested by Soedjatmoko. It thus represents a break, not a developmental progression as implied in the standard account, from the earlier tradition of nationalist historiography.

I should note, however, my unease with what seems a simplistic dichotomy between “scientific” and “politically-inclined” history. Some Indonesian scholars insist on a separation between the two (Adri Lapian, interview 29 October 2001; Soedjatmoko 1960), but it looks more complicated than that. Kuntowijoyo’s bitter critique is particularly relevant here. His recent “Indonesian Historiography in Search of Identity” stands out for sharp and point-blank criticism uncommon to Indonesian historians. It was controversial for castigating a whole generation of Indonesian historians for collective failure to perform their social function as scholars, that is, to be social critics. He claims that the neutral stance of the social science approach is amenable to whoever is in power: “history contributed nothing and contradicted nobody, history was safe for everybody” (Kuntowijoyo 2000, 81). It was precisely such neutrality, ostensibly owing to its adherence to “scientific” method, that made the Sartono school politically permissible and earned it a niche in the scheme of things as defined by New Order politics. Politics and “scientific” history cannot be separated. The combination of neutral political stance and claim to being scientific enabled the Sartono school to assume its position – as the dominant player, following the standard account, or as an important element, following the “closer-to-reality” version – in the history of Indonesian historiography.

This effort to distinguish the Sartono school from other streams is meant as a foundation for understanding the on-going attempt to reform Indonesian historiography. It must be emphasized that the target of this on-going effort is primarily the Sartono school and only secondarily the whole of Indonesiasentris. The military-UI-popular history which constituted much of the Suharto-era Indonesia-centric output has already been discredited as the handmaiden of the New Order regime. It has since been deemed an inadequate, if not shameful, intellectual project by the reformist group that is the primary focus of this essay. The on-going reformation is taking the form of critical re-examination, but not outright rejection, of the Sartono school, aiming to purge it of its ties with political projects and make it truer in practice to its promises. And while there have been radical suggestions to throw the national-nationalist framework away altogether, there are clear indications that it will be retained.


Sowing the Seeds of Reformation

In October 2001, I attended the 7th National History Conference held in Jakarta. It was the latest in a series of national history seminars/conferences begun in 1957. These meetings have been held infrequently – in recent decades, every five to six years – and as this was the first in the post-Suharto era, I hoped to see signs of change or new trends within the community of Indonesia’s academic historians. But while expectations of major reversals in historical studies were bound to be disappointed, there were faint indications that change might be forthcoming. The Masyarakat Sejarawan Indonesia (MSI; Association of Historians of Indonesia) made a formal and categorical “declaration of independence” from the traditional grip of state influence or control. And among the more than one hundred papers delivered were two that stood out. These were written by the relatively young upstart historians Mestika Zed and Bambang Purwanto, who trained in Amsterdam (Vrije U) and London (SOAS) respectively. Their papers alone discussed the fundamental need to re-examine the nationalist framework long held sacred by nearly all Indonesian historians. Up against such a well-established tradition, it was no wonder that the issues they raised were not enthusiastically taken up and that continuity rather than change dominated the overall atmosphere. I contend, however, that the “strategic” position occupied by the reformers (especially Purwanto) makes the faintly discernible elements of change significant as signs of things to come.

Mestika Zed’s paper, “Menggugat Tirani Sejarah Nasional” (lit. To accuse tyranny of national history), is interesting not just for what it says but for how the author says it. With the great reluctance common to Indonesian historians reared in the tradition of intellectual restriction, he wants to send a message that is radical and revisionist in a manner so polite and oblique that his agonizing ambivalence is almost palpable.

More than half the paper discusses historiographical development in France and Great Britain and one could easily lose sight of Indonesia in the display of erudition. But the main idea, while painstakingly disguised, is clear enough: that the idea of a national history is tyrannical and oppressive and that by learning from the experience of western countries like France and Britain, Indonesians may be able to free themselves from such tyranny. I believe that he is the first Indonesian historian to suggest in a formal gathering the outright dismissal of Indonesiasentris as a framework for historical study. Towards the end of his paper, however, the author’s ambivalent attitude is revealed when he allows himself to frame his closing words within the “national” framework. To my mind, such reluctance bespeaks the difficulty faced by Indonesian historians in opposing the tradition of nationalist historiography. In one sense, he may be the first of a new kind of Indonesian historian: one foot bravely crossing the line, the other stuck in the mud. In another sense, he personifies the identity crisis in which Indonesian historiography has been trapped for some time now. As Kuntowijoyo says, Indonesian historiography is in “search of identity.”

 f Mestika Zed is a reluctant reformer, Bambang Purwanto is certainly not. Based on his writings and my interviews with him, I can say that he has no qualms about rocking the deeply entrenched establishment of Indonesian historiography. He is fiercely critical of weaknesses in the writing of Indonesian history, including those committed by respected Indonesian historians such as Sartono and Lapian. Armed with understanding of recent theoretical developments in historiography, he does not mince words in exposing and attacking trenchant problems in the conceptualization and methodology of Indonesiasentris in general and the Sartono school in particular. Many of his comments bring discomfort, even shock, to the old guard and he is therefore somewhat unpopular. On the other hand, his no-nonsense critiques blow a fresh revolutionary wind through the otherwise arid terrain of Indonesian historiography. After a long hiatus imposed by decades of intellectual repression, debate is finally back.

Politics and Methodology

Purwanto’s critique focuses on a number of critical points. First is the persistence of colonial impulses, to the neglect of internal-local dynamics, in what is purported to be an Indonesia-centric methodology. Second is the common tendency to fall into anachronism in interpreting historical events, by which he means the interpretation of events out of their proper historical context and time-frame. Such anachronism, he argues, indicates failure to resist political, nationalistic impulses. Third is the disproportionate emphasis on “big men” and political factors to the neglect of other dimensions. Fourth, he seeks to explain these problems primarily in methodological terms, rather than through politics. Lastly, the solution he proposes is strict adherence to “scientific” historical methodology.

In “Kesadaran Dekonstruktif dan Historiografi Indonesiasentris” (Deconstructive consciousness and Indonesia-centric historiography) he sets out to explode the myth that the Indonesiasentris framework effectively eradicates the vestiges of colonial historiography and discourse. In many of these writings, he claims, the centrality of colonialism can be seen in an undue emphasis on the activities or roles of the colonizers and colonial government at the expense of internal, local dynamics (2001a, 6).

Purwanto appreciates the pioneering work of Sartono in refocusing the lens of history away from “big men” and towards the life of the common people, and is cognizant of the enormous contribution the Sartono school has made to the overall advancement of Indonesian historiography. He nevertheless complains about the failure of Sartono himself and the school in general to address certain fundamental problems. In his estimation, Sartono tends to remain stuck in anti-colonial themes when analyzing historical events, overlooking local dynamics that may in reality have played a greater role. For example, he cites the peasant rebellion in Banten in 1888 which Sartono sees as a reaction to colonial exploitation. He counters that some evidence shows economic growth being experienced in Banten by 1888, five years after the eruption of Mt. Krakatua, and that conflict between different social groups, not just colonial exploitation, must share the blame (9). He finds the same neglect of internal dynamics in Sartono’s analysis of peasant unrest in rural Java (1984) and his seeming acceptance of the romantic notion of village life as a paragon of peace and order, to the extent that he overlooks exploitation that emanated from the feudal structure. According to Purwanto, Sartono seemed to regard things done by the VOC as exploitation and those done by local elites as part of the sacrifice one family member makes for another. In reality, he argues, exploitative acts committed by the VOC and later the colonial government were simply a continuation in a long tradition of exploitation of the common people (7).

Similarly, he finds that most Indonesian historians’ reading of the novel Max Havelaar sees only Dutch exploitation and overlooks its depiction of exploitation committed by native elites and their cohorts (8-9). Purwanto even critiques studies done by followers of the Sartono school that carefully show internal dynamics. He argues that Lapian interprets the activities of pirates (1987) and Suhartono those of rural bandits (1989) within an anachronistic framework that too readily regards them not as criminal, but as anti-colonial, as part of a nationalist struggle against the colonizers (8). In reality, he says, not all of these pirates and bandits opposed the colonizers; some worked for them (11).

In “Ketika Sejarah Menjadi Sekedar Alat Legitimasi” (When history becomes just a tool for legitimacy), he shifts his gaze to a more contemporary historical event to identify a similar set of problems. This was apparently written to intervene in the recent heated debate over the proposal to declare, by law, that Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, not Suharto, was the real initiator of the concerted 1949 attack on the Dutch position in Yogyakarta (Serangan Umum 1 Maret 1949). Arguing forcefully against the proposal, Purwanto raises questions about its undemocratic implications, its lack of firm scientific/historical basis, and its undue emphasis on the role of the elite in historical analysis. He charges that it reflects the persistance of an authoritarian political culture in post-Orde Baru Indonesia and the promotion of a single-mindedness that discourages differences of opinion. Moreover, he claims that it reveals a gross misunderstanding of history as a scientific enterprise with its own established process of truth claim and justification, a process that should never be influenced by political and legal intervention (1-2). Finally, he deplores the absence of the common people and overemphasis on leaders in historical accounts, as if things happen in a socio-economic and cultural vacuum.

The paper is noteworthy for its compelling assertion of the need to resist undue political influence in historical analysis and to observe “scientific” historical methodology. He rejects the popular demand to replace Suharto with the Sultan; rather than a product of conscientious and legitimate historical analysis, he says, it may just be a result of the asal bukan Suharto (so long as not Suharto) or sejarah dendam (history for reprisal) mentality prevalent in the post-Suharto period. According to him, the popular demand to de-Suhartoize historical accounts merely repeats the politically motivated move to de-Sukanoize history that was done decades earlier. In his view, replacing one set of myths with another is not acceptable. Historical accounts should be changed following the procedures and standards of “scientific” historical analysis.

Purwanto’s almost singular emphasis on strict adherence to historical methodology is the centerpiece of his critique of Indonesiasentris. Unlike many other Indonesian historians who regard past authoritarian rule as the primary, if not only, reason for an inability to reconstruct history in objective manner, he believes “cultural and structural” weaknesses within the community of academic historians is more responsible. Specifically, he blames the “ignorance” of most Indonesian historians – their insufficient understanding and lack of skill in the use of scientific historical methods – for the vulnerability of historical accounts to the influence of politics. His reasoning is this: if the controlling impulses of authoritarian regimes and the irresistibly nationalistic atmosphere of the post-revolutionary period is to blame, we should find the problems of anachronism, “big men,” and neglect of local dynamics only in historical accounts written when authoritarian regimes had a stake in controlling historiographical production. Instead, these problems span almost the entire stretch of Indonesian history. Thus the primary source of the problem is methodological “ignorance” on the part of Indonesian historians, which makes them particularly vulnerable to political influence and manipulation.

Purwanto’s “ignorance of methodology” thesis is a refreshing counterpoint to the common tendency simply to blame the politically restrictive and nationalistic atmosphere that has reigned during much of Indonesia’s post-independence period. However, the single-mindedness with which the hypothesis is argued leaves Purwanto vulnerable to charges of reductionism and falls flat when applied to two of Indonesia’s most respected historians, Sartono and Lapian, who are well regarded for their excellent theoretical grasp and practice of historical methodology. Purwanto has convincingly showed that even they are not immune to the “sin” of anachronism, which may be attributed to the itch of nationalism. That even such accomplished historians commit these errors suggests that good historical methodology is not sufficient to forestall them. We should recall that interpretation constitutes a significant part of historical analysis and is ultimately influenced by values shaped as much by the scholar’s socio-economic, ideological, moral, and religious orientations as by academic training. In other words, the problems facing Indonesian historiography cannot be reduced to an inadequate grasp of methodology. The socio-economic and political atmosphere within which historians operate seems to be an important factor in the way they employ historical method. 


New Initiatives

Having spelled out some debilitating problems with Indonesiasentris as it has been practiced and conceptualized, Purwanto has also begun to formulate possible alternatives. He is among the few Indonesian historians who show understanding and a sympathetic, albeit cautious, attitude towards the inroad of postcolonial, poststructuralist, and postmodernist theories into the domain of historical studies. Some of the mainstays in his bibliography are Munslow’s Deconstructing History, Jenkins’ Postmodern History Reader, Attridge et al.’s Post-structuralism and the Question of History, and Berkhofer’s Beyond the Great Story. Probably owing to his awareness of his colleagues’ allergic reaction to anything “post,” he has opted to use sparingly the terminologies and ideas of these theoretical projects. He is also very selective in borrowing; only ideas he finds readily useful in his effort to deconstruct Indonesian history have found a place in his writings. Nonetheless, I find this significant, not only as a foundation for Purwanto’s critique, but more importantly as an indicator of the future of Indonesian historical studies. The “postie” fever that swept through the other social sciences in Indonesia since the early 1990s (Heryanto 1995) has finally infected history and we can only speculate how it will affect the discipline in general and the effort to reformulate Indonesiasentris in particular.

Another initiative can be seen in Purwanto’s 2001 “Mencari Format Baru Histroriografi Indonesiasentris: Sebuah Kajian Awal” (Searching for a new format of Indonesia-centric historiography: A preliminary analysis). This paper discusses the limitations of written documents as sources of historical information, laying the groundwork for his proposal to elevate oral history as a pillar of a “new” Indonesia-centric historiography. In his formulation, the use of oral sources can overcome the “tyranny of the archives” that presumably underlies the resilience of colonial discourse (through over-reliance on Dutch written documents) and “history without people” narratives characterized by over-emphasis on elites (whose acts populate those documents). The preliminary character of such a proposal, however, is highlighted by the limited range of problems it can address and its notable lack of freshness.   

To further reform discussions, Purwanto initiated a series of workshops in 2001. These workshops were specifically designed to address Indonesiasentris as the established framework for writing Indonesian history. Workshop participants included historians from UGM and other universities (Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta, Universitas Sanatha Dharma), undergraduate and postgraduate students of history, and scholars from other social science disciplines and from abroad. I attended the first workshop in May 2001, at which participants candidly grappled with the problems of Indonesiasentris and discussed the need to reformulate Indonesian historiography. Whether this meant abrogation of Indonesiasenstris or merely reformation from within the tradition was a focal point of congenial but serious discussion. Tellingly, it was an anthropologist, a foreign scholar, and the younger participants who questioned the relevance of  Indonesiasentris in this time of rapid globalization, but the call for reform rather than abrogation handily won the day. The need for some sort of national history was reaffirmed, not least due to the persistence of the state-to-state principle in global interaction.

Further, no question was raised about the usefulness of the multi-dimensional, social science approach pioneered by Sartono. In concurrence with Purwanto’s critiques, it was the inappropriate application of this approach that was faulted. The traditional distaste for conventional, politics-centered, descriptive history was easily upheld. Instead, participants called for holistic understanding of events and their meaning to the people who experienced them. The contextual character of Indonesiantris as a perspective was affirmed, meaning that the penetrating lens of historical analysis will be adjusted depending on the nature and scope (micro, macro, local, regional, national) of an event. In other words, the group has tried to free Indonesiasentris from its usual role as promoter and definer of what is “national” and thus hopes to disentangle it from its burdensome association with the state nationalist project.


Indonesian historiography is at a critical juncture. For all the problems of Purwanto’s “ignorance of methodology” thesis, it may provide a glimpse into the long-term character and direction of Indonesian historiography in the post-Suharto era, especially in its recommitment to “scientific” historical method and its unconditional distrust of political agendas. While up to now, history in the post-Suharto period remains largely hostage to those with political axes to grind, I am optimistic that so long as the democratization process in Indonesia continues, scholarly and academic historiography can gain a prominent position.

This would not entail the demise of nationalist influence on history writing. The downfall of the Suharto regime has made possible the dissolution of nationalist historiography’s burdensome partnership with the state’s regime-justification efforts. This has lessened suspicion of the nationalist project, making possible its persistance and reinvention in accord with the changing character of the time. We are likely to see a creative partnership forged between the academic and the nationalist with strong antipathy towards patently political manipulation.

If the freer atmosphere of the post-Suharto period is sustained, we should also see a plurality of views nurtured and eventually naturalized. In historiography, this means the reform efforts now emanating largely from UGM will be joined by others seeking to shape the future. We should expect different streams of historiographical traditions, both academic and popular, to develop in parallel to one another. These may emerge from the University of Indonesia, as well as regional and Islamic universities. UI’s History Department has been closely identified with the New Order regime and Islamic groups have been sidelined through much of Indonesia’s history; it should be interesting and relevant to see how their historiographic re-orientations might proceed.

Seen from a broader historical perspective, the reformist ideas I have surveyed here are hardly new. One can easily hear echoes of Soedjatmoko, John Smail, and J.C. van Leur, not to mention Taufik Abdullah’s earlier views (1988b). That these writers still look fresh – after figuring prominently in the historical discourse of other countries in Southeast Asia for decades – is a stark reminder of how little Indonesian historiography has moved in the intervening years. To transcend them, while raising the benchmark of historiographic scholarship, is the immediate and urgent task waiting to be accomplished.

Rommel Curaming
Rommel Curaming was a grantee of ASIA Fellows Program (2001-2002) and is now a Ph.D. student at the Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra.

I would like to acknowledge the Ford Foundation’s ASIA Fellows Program (now Asian Scholarship Foundation) for the research grant that allowed me to gather data for writing this paper. I would also like to express gratitude to Robert Cribb, Michael Montesano, Donna Amoroso, and Bambang Purwanto for reading the earlier draft of the article and offering substantive and editorial suggestions for improvement. Of course, the responsibility for errors in the final paper is solely mine. 

Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia. Issue 3:  Nations and Other Stories. March 2003



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