To my teachers: A Reflection on 55 Years of Learning the Historian’s Craft (1964/65 – 2020) Part II

Richard Cobb (1917-96), my very eccentric tutor at Oxford, who introduced me to the idea of a ‘second identity’ in Javanese history. Photo courtesy of the Daily Telegraph.

So who were my tutors at Oxford? My main tutor and supervisor at Oxford was Richard Cobb,[1] a celebrated historian of France who always spoke about the need for a successful historian to develop a ‘second identity’ in the country, society and era in which he or she was specialising. In Richard’s case this was France and the late eighteenth-century Revolutionary era (1780s-1820s) which was his speciality and on which he wrote extensively. For myself, Indonesia has become my second identity especially the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Javanese world which Diponegoro inhabited. That is what draws me back to Indonesia again and again. There is also the fact that here my work is appreciated and can ‘flower’, in the sense that it can inspire a whole range of creative endeavours such as Mas Landung Simatupang’s tuturan or pementasan dramatik ‘Aku Diponegoro’ in which he staged a dramatic reading of Diponegoro’s babad (autobiography) in four places closely associated with the prince: Magelang, where he was treacherously arrested on 28 March 1830 (26 November 2013), Tegalrejo just to the northwest of Yogyakarta where he grew to manhood (1793-1803) (8 January 2014), the Stadhuis (Town Hall) in Batavia (now Jakarta) where he was detained for nearly a month (8 April – 3 May 1830) awaiting his voyage into exile in Sulawesi (1830-55) (6 March 2014), and finally Fort Rotterdam, Makassar (5 June 2014) where he spent his last twenty-two years.

In Oxford, the way we taught history followed certain periods. The major divide was between ‘Ancient History’ and ‘Modern History’. The first, Ancient History, focussed on the ancient Greeks and Romans ending shortly after the reign of the Emperor Constantine (272-337 AD), the first Roman emperor to claim conversion to Christianity. The instability which followed his reign led to the fall of this Western Roman empire in the late fifth century (476), a process which began with the ‘Barbarian’ (Vandal, Goth, Visigoth) invasions of Rome. My long-time colleague during my nearly 30 years teaching at Trinity College, Bryan Ward-Perkins, was an historian of this period of the late Roman Empire and the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ (400-700) which followed. Renowned for his book The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (2005), he opened my eyes to the ways in which archaeology can inform history. A finer colleague on this earth one could not wish to have. He was in every way an inspiration.

My long-time colleague during my nearly 30 years teaching at Trinity College, Bryan Ward-Perkins, was an historian of this period of the late Roman Empire and the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ (400-700) which followed.

My own focus, however, was solidly on ‘Modern history’, which, for the purposes of the Oxford were deemed to start with the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ in Europe. In this one and half millennia (1,500 years) our Oxford History School concentrated on four principal periods: (1) ‘early medieval’, which went from the Dark Ages to around 1250, concentrating particularly on the so-called ‘High Middle Ages’ which saw a rapidly increasing population in Europe, urbanization and the 12th-century ‘Renaissance’. This was followed by (2) the later Middle Ages (1250-1500), a period which saw rapid depopulation (40-60 percent), economic contraction, civil strife and peasant revolts as the Eurasian landmass was wracked by calamities such as the Black Death (bubonic plague) (1346-53) and wars (eg the ‘Hundred Years War’ between England and France, 1337-1543; and the Wars of the Roses between the Lancastrian and Yorkist contenders for the English throne, 1455-85). In England, Henry Tudor’s victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485), and his subsequent reign as Henry VII (1485-1509) ushered in what we in Oxford understood as the third or ‘Early Modern’ (1485-1688) period, which lasted until the Dutch king, William of Orange (William III’s, r. 1689-1702) successful ‘descent on England’ (invasion of 1688). Then came the fourth and final period of ‘Modern History’ proper, focussing on Britain’s rise, decline and fall from great power status. This ended, when I started teaching in Oxford in 1979, with the Second World War (1939-45).

It was this very ‘English’ periodization of history (Ireland and Scotland hardly got a look in!) with which I had to engage as a young history tutor at Trinity College, Oxford. I was thrown in the deep end! From the start, I was required to give tutorials on a great range of different subjects. I was required to teach all the subjects listed below to Oxford undergraduates during my career and reading them up so I was one step ahead of the often very bright undergraduates was very time consuming. This period ‘before the mast’ as a tutorial fellow lasted nearly thirty years, beginning in October 1979, when I took up my post as Laithwaite Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Trinity, ending in October 2008, when I resigned my Fellowship to come to settle permanently in Indonesia. The papers I taught included the latter part of the early modern period of English history, namely the reign of James I & VI of England & Scotland [1603-25] through to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 and the constitutional reforms which established the political primacy of the British parliament following William of Orange’s invasion. I also taught the ‘long eighteenth century’ from 1688 through to the Great Reform Bill of 1832, the first major reform of the British Parliament. In addition, I was required to read up on political theory and give tutorials on key political philosophers (Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Marx), economic theorists and sociologists (Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville and Max Weber),  historians like Edward Gibbon (1737-94) (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776-88/89), Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59, ‘not only the greatest but the most representative Englishman then living’, in Lord Acton’s words) and the works of the French Annales School (Fernand Braudel, Lucien Febvre, Marc Bloch, Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie).

The papers I taught included the latter part of the early modern period of English history, namely the reign of James I & VI of England & Scotland [1603-25] through to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 and the constitutional reforms which established the political primacy of the British parliament following William of Orange’s invasion

As if this was not enough, I was also required to teach European and non-European history from 1714 (the Peace of Utrecht which ended the Spanish Succession War, 1701-14) to 1856 (The Crimean War, 1853-56), and French literature (Proust, Flaubert, De Maupassant), art (Impressionists and post-impressionists) and politics during  the early Third Republic in France (1871-1940). The only course I taught which focussed on my own area of expert was one which I largely developed myself. This was an optional subject in non-European history (known in Oxford as a ‘Further Subject’) on ‘Imperialism and Nationalism’, where I developed an option entitled ‘The Making of the Modern States of Maritime Southeast Asia (ie Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia), 1870-1973’. Only a handful of undergraduates chose this in any one year. At the most, I would get half a dozen takers. But interestingly some of these were Southeast Asians, including Singaporeans, Thai, Malaysians and Filipinos—never Indonesians. Many of these Southeast Asian students became firm friends, with whom I remain in contact to this day. A few went on to become professional academic historians in their own countries. One of these was Dr Pingjin (P.J.) Thum, who wrote his PhD thesis on ‘Chinese-language political mobilisation in Singapore, 1953-63’ (March 2011) and went on to found the ‘New Naratif’ movement for democracy, freedom of information and freedom of expression in Southeast Asia.

I am sure that teaching such a broad sweep of different subjects in British and European history was all ‘good for the soul’ and gave me a breadth of view of history which I would not have gained if I had taught in a more specialist department of Southeast Asian history, like the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) in London. But during my nearly thirty years as a tutor in Oxford my research work on Java was almost entirely ignored. There was no institutional place for things Indonesian or Javanese in the Oxford curriculum. Since Java had not become a British Crown Colony at the end of British occupation (1811-16) at the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), as Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826; Lieutenant-Governor of Java, 1811-16) had hoped, there was no wider popular awareness of Indonesia in British society. The only exceptions were from Church groups like CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) like Tapol (1973-present), who both had an interest in the ongoing Indonesian military occupation of East Timor, 1975-99; and the barely comprehended horror of the 30 September 1965 coup and its bloody aftermath.

My modern Indonesian speciality was so marginal in Oxford that I can remember the then Professor of Latin American History (1972-89), Christopher Platt (1934-89), in the mid-1980s, when I was still a young Oxford don, inviting me to give a talk to the Oxford History Faculty on the ‘British in Indonesia’ and no-one turning up—I mean no-one! Maybe they thought I would talk about the Amboyna massacre of 1623 or something equally remote! In fact, I wanted to talk about Raffles. But no matter, all my time at Oxford I lived a marginal existence in terms of my speciality and my scholarship was tolerated but not considered important: as the late Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003), our Regius Professor (1957-80) in my first year as an Oxford History don (tutor), put it Java ‘had no history’ because ‘beyond the Hellespont (Dardanelles), there was just the whirling of Dervish tribes’. These were lands with no history. But here in Indonesia what I study and write on is deeply appreciated and I have regularly addressed gatherings of more than 700-800 people all interested in the history of Diponegoro. One would never get such a turn-out in the UK!

 ~~~To Be Continued~~~


* Artikel To my teachers: A Reflection on 55 Years of Learning the Historian’s Craft (1964/65 – 2020) ini, bagian kedua dari 4 seri yang akan dipublikasikan di setiap hari Senin. Baca artikel sebelumnya

[3] Richard Cobb (1917-1996), yang pernah menjadi supervisor saya, mengambil perspektif wong cilik yang dikembangkannya dalam disertasinya—kemudian diterbitkan pertama kali dalam Bahasa Prancis (1961) dan diterjemahkan dalam Bahasa Inggris oleh Marianne Elliot (Oxford 1987), The People’s Armies (The Armées Revolutionnaires: Instrument of the Terror in the Departments, April 1793 to Floréal Year II)—dan bukunya yang lain seperti The Police and the People; French Popular Protest, 1789-1820 (Oxford 1970). Pandangan Cobb yang sangat individual terhadap penulisan sejarah dan kesimpulan yang idiosinkratik tentang Revolusi mirip dengan kejeniusan sejarawan Indonesia seperti Ong Hok Ham (1933-2007), yang senang mengungkapkan paradoks dalam tulisan sejarah.Cobb dan Ong sama-sama mengagumi orang-orang kecil dan sikap mereka. Sebagai sejarawan, mereka tidak tertarik pada gerakan massa atau cakrawala besar sejarah nasional. Kendati demikian, walaupun keduanya seolah menolak sejarah sosiologis, teori historiografi, dan sejarah berbasis statistik, mereka tahu menggunakan statistik dan teknik sosiologis dengan sangat jeli dan efektif. Di tangan mereka, kejadian geografis, asal-usul sosial, usia, perkerjaan, dan berbagai kedekatan dengan wong durjana (bandit), ronggeng/pelacur, gadis yang bekerja, bunuh diri, dan tentara pembelot, menjadi hidup. Itu tampak sekali pada skripsi S1 Ong tentang pergerakan Samin (1905-1907), komunitas di areal Blora yang membangkang terhadap Pemerintah Hindia Belanda dengan menolak membayar pajak dan melakukan kewajiban kerja rodi, yang ia selesaikan pada 1964.Sebenarnya, sejarah akar rumput adalah basis buku-buku Cobb dan artikel Ong. Dalam kisah Revolusi Prancis dan dunia priayi Madiun abad ke-19, Cobb dan Ong berbicara untuk rakyat. Bukan untuk aktivis militan, orator yang menyatakan cita-cita, birokrat yang mengatur represi dan kemenangan, atau sukarelawan heroik yang mengabdi pada tentara Republik di perbatasan. Pahlawan, bagi Cobb dan Ong, adalah rakyat biasa yang berharap dapat makan dan minum dan bercinta, tidak ada hubungannya dengan journées (aksi politik), gerakan revolusioner, atau perang melawan tentara sekutu tatanan lama monarkis. Dua sejarawan nyentrik itu lebih suka pemuda yang membelot dari kewajiban militer dan yang menjadi bagian dari “gerakan populer secara default”. Ong sendiri mempunyai pedoman yang sangat menarik bagi sejarawan Indonesia. Pedoman ini dikutip TP Danang dalam tesis S2-nya (Danang 2016:77) dari penulis biografi Ong, David Reeve: “Ambil tokoh yang sedang mengalami stres berat. Ikuti apa yang terjadi dengan dia (melalui sumber/arsip) (dan tulis kajianmu). Itulah sejarah yang benar!”



Peter Carey
Peter Carey, yang lahir di Myanmar 30 April 1948, adalah Fellow Emeritus Trinity College, Oxford, dan Adjunct Profesor FIB-UI (Fakultas Ilmu Pengetahuan Budaya, Universitas Indonesia). Karya yang lahir dari sentuhan tangannya antara lain : Burma: The Challenge of Change in a Divided Society (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997); The Power of Prophecy; Prince Dipanagara and the End of an Old Order in Java, 1785-1855. Leiden: KITLV Press, 2007 (terjemahan dalam Bahasa Indonesia, Kuasa Ramalan; Pangeran Diponegoro dan Akhir Tatanan Lama di Jawa, 1785-1855. Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, 2012); The British in Java, 1811-1816. A Javanese Account. Oxford: OUP Press, 1992. Terjemahan Inggris di Jawa. Jakarta: PBK, 2017). Kemudian beberapa ulasan mengenai dirinya antara lain : buku Urip iku Urub; 40 Tahun Sarjana Lelono di Negara Leluhur. Tulisan yang dipersembahkan kepada Peter Carey untuk HUT ke-70. FX Domini BB Hera (peny.). Jakarta: PBK, Oktober 2018.