On the Spot: Peter Carey - 2 minutes read

A market scene in the Dutch East Indies, Pierre Jean Apol, 1886 - 1947.
A colonial era market scene in the Dutch East Indies, Pierre Jean Apol (1886 - 1947). Rijksmuseum. Public Domain.

Why are you a historian of Indonesia?

To restore a lost history which the Dutch colonial state obliterated.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?

That historians have to co-operate with creative artists to ensure that their work lives in the popular imagination.

Which history book has had the greatest influence on you?

Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1913).

What book in your field should everyone read?

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983).

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

The arrival of Admiral Zheng He’s five ‘treasure voyages’ to Java between 1405 and 1433.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Richard Cobb.

Which person in history would you most like to have met? 

Prince Diponegoro of Yogyakarta, the writing of whose biography I have dedicated my professional life.

How many languages do you have?

Indonesian, Javanese and French; proficient in Dutch and Portuguese.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

Colonialism. Born into a colonial family, and once proud of the fact, I now know that it had no redeeming features.

What is the most common misconception about your field?

That it can only be written from Western sources.

Who is the most underrated person in history…

Gustav Stresemann, for nearly saving the world from the Second World War.

… and the most overrated?

Henry Kissinger.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?

Non-Western history from below.

Is there an important historical text you have not read?

Ma Huan’s Ying-yai Sheng-lan: Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores (1433).

What’s your favourite archive?

Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia in Jakarta.

What’s the best museum?

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

What technology has changed the world the most?


Recommend us a historical novel...

Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014).

... and a historical drama?

I la Galigo, the world’s longest manuscript, brought to the stage by American experimental theatre director Robert Wilson in 2004.

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?


Peter Carey is Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College, Oxford and Adjunct Professor in Humanities at the University of Indonesia, Jakarta.

Source: History Today Feed