Jarrah Sastrawan

MA (Research) candidate
Supervisor: Professor Adrian Vickers
Associate supervisor: Emeritus Professor Peter Worsley

Traditional approaches to writing history in Indonesia and Malaysia
This research project is a comparative study of traditional histories written by Indonesians and Malaysians before the 20th century. The project takes as its central object of study the conventions of composition and transmission of historical texts. I seek to analyse the literary and generic features of historical texts in different languages and from different ethnocultural contexts, in order to discover the commonalities among traditional historiographic methods in the region. The texts I have chosen were written by Malays, Balinese and Javanese, and focus on the history of the great states of Melaka, Gelgel and Mataram.

The role of traditional historical texts within the discipline of Indonesian and Malaysian history has been strongly contested, due to the texts' strikingly non-Western features: the attribution of supernatural causes to historical events, symbolic uses of chronology and the dominance of mythic tropes in the narratives. These characteristics have led many Western, Indonesian and Malaysian historians to treat the texts as unreliable documents of the past that need external verification, or to entirely reject their use in favour of social scientific methods that are felt to be more rigorous. My project, by focussing on the textual qualities of the histories, seeks to analyse the strategies employed by the historians who composed them, in order to argue for the texts' importance and relevance to the contemporary historical profession.

About the student

Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan is a Balinese-Australian who attended primary school in Bali and has lived in Sydney since. He has a Bachelor of Liberal Studies with majors in English and Sanskrit, as well as Honours and Masters degrees in physics. He has written commentary on Indonesian politics for New Matilda. His research interests include the traditional historiography of Southeast Asia, as well as the 20th century history, modern literature and regional popular music of Indonesia.