FASS Staff Profile


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Brief Introduction

I originally come from the southern United States, but have made Southeast Asia my home for much of the past thirty years. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1998, after studying for two Masters Degrees (History, Southeast Asian Studies) from Ohio University in 1990 and 1991. My interest in the environmental and cultural history of Southeast Asia, and particularly the Straits of Melaka, began when I taught at universities in Sumatra. My eclectic interests are reflected in my current research into the cultural and environmental history of Southeast Asia alongside studies of Malay films in the 1950s and 60s and the development of our understanding of the natural environment in the Malay Archipelago. This is also reflected in my publications. My first book, Raja Kecil dan Mitos Pengabsahannya (1994), was a Malay language book focusing on Malay historiography. Some of my other publications include Multiple Centres of Authority (2003) and the edited works Contesting Malayness (2004) and Nature Contained (2014). I recently published a history of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Nature’s Colony (2016). I teach introductory modules on Asian History in addition to upper level modules focusing on the Malay World, Environmental History, and Film. In my spare time, I enjoy collecting memorabilia related to musical icon Nigel Tufnel and American conservationist Harlan Pepper.

Teaching Areas

  • Environmental History
  • Film
  • Indonesia
  • The Malay World of Southeast Asia

Current Research

My research focuses on the cultural and environmental history of island Southeast Asia.

Research Interests

  • Southeast Asia
  • Malay World
  • Cultural History
  • Environmental History



  • Contesting Malayness: Malay Identity across Boundaries. Singapore: Singapore Universisty Press, 2004. (Editor)
  • Multiple Centres of Authority: Society, Environment and the Malay State in Siak, 1674-1827. Leiden: KITLV, 2003
  • Raja Kecil dan Mitos Pengabsahannya. [Raja Kecil and His Legitimation Myth]. Pekanbaru, Indonesia: Pusat Pengajian Melayu, 1994.


  • “Film, Literature and Context in Southeast Asia: P. Ramlee, Malay Cinema, and History” in Southeast Asian Studies: Debates and New Directions, ed. Cynthia Chou and Vincent Houben (Singapore and Leiden: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies / International Institute for Asian Studies, 2006), pp. 162-79
  • “Mestizos as Middlemen: Tomas Días and his Travels in Eastern Sumatra” in Iberians in the Singapore-Melaka Area (16th to 18th Century), ed. Peter Borschberg (Weisbaden: Harrassowitz, 2004), pp. 147-60
  • “Chickens, Cakes and Kitchens: Food and Modernity in Malay Films of the 1950s and 1960s” in Reel Food: Essays on Food and Film, ed. Anne Bower (London: Routledge, 2004), pp. 77-87.
  • Confrontation on a River: Singapore as a Battleground in 18th Century Malay Historiography” in Early Singapore, 1300s-1819: Evidence in Maps, Text and Artefacts, ed. John N. Miksic and Cheryl-Ann Low Mei Gek (Singapore: Singapore History Museum, 2004), pp. 118-23
  • "Vampires, Heroes and Jesters: A History of Cathay Keris" in The Cathay Story, ed. Wong Ain-Lin (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 2002), pp. 124-142.
  • "Saudara, Sejarah, dan Siak: Apa yang Dipersoalkan Raja Ali Haji?" in Kandil Akal Di Pelantar Budi: Essai dan Renungan Budaya Persembahan kepada Alm. Raja Hamzah Yunus, ed. Al azhar and Elmustian Rahman (Pekanbaru: Yayasan Kata, 2001), pp. 242-68.


  • "Sedih sampi Buta: Blindness, Modernity and Tradition in Malay Films of the 1950s and 1960s", Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 161, 4 (2005): 433-53
  • "The Ambivalence of P. Ramlee: Penarek Beca and Bujang Lapok in Perspective", Asian Cinema 13, 2 (2002), pp. 9-23.
  • “Texts, Raja Ismail, and Violence: Siak and the Transformation of Malay Identity in the Eighteenth Century”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 32, 3 (2001), pp. 331-342.
  • “Rules for Rulers: Obscure Texts, Authority, and Policing in Two Malay States”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 32, 2 (2001), pp. 211-25.
  • “The Timber Trade in Pre-Modern Siak", Indonesia, 65 (1998), pp. 86-96.
  • “Local Heroes and National Consciousness: The Politics of Historiography in Riau”, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde 153, 4 (1997), pp. 509-26.
  • Taman Penghiburan: Entertainment and the Riau Elite in the Late 19th Century”, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society  62, 2 (1994), pp. 17-46.

Other Information

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