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Fellow (1 February 2000 - 30 June 2000)
During my five-month tenure at NIAS I was able to refine the conceptualisation of my book, provisionally entitled Unravelling Ethnicities in the Straits of Melaka in the Early Modern Period. I began by attempting to determine which historical events were the inspiration for the "invented" or "imagined" ethnicities which arose as a result of a period of intense economic development in the Straits region c. 1500-c. 1800. Though historical evaluations shift with the exigencies of the times, the events which are the subject of reinterpretation have actually occurred in the past and have been singled out as significant and worthy of remembrance by the group. I began with the premise that these events would not only reveal something of how a group is constituted, but also how a group's ethnic formulation and reformulation is dependent on a circle of interacting communities with a common past. Having researched and written about three of these groups (the Acehnese, the Minangkabau, and the Batak) during my stay at NIAS, it appears that the shared past in the kingdom of Srivijaya and its successor Malayu between the seventh and fourteenth centuries provided the foundations paradoxically for their distinctive identities. Through an examination of the contemporaneous documents of the Dutch East India Company, as well as the oral and written literature of these communities, I have begun to outline the process by which these groups formulate their identities in response to both outside economic forces and to rivalries with neighbouring communities. As I continue my research and writing on the remainder of the groups in the Straits of Melaka, I will continue to focus on the process in order to contribute to a general understanding of the phenomenon of ethnic formation.
The research into these three ethnic communities will result in publications. My article on Aceh's Contributions to Standards of Malayness will be published in Archipel this year or the beginning of next. The general work on the economic background of the region will appear in the next publication of Itinerario as A History of Trade in the Sea of Malayu. A third article entitled Unravelling Minangkabau Ethnicity will also appear in a special issue of Itinerario in early 2001 devoted to the NIAS nucleus, Ethnic Interaction and the Representation of Identity in Early Modern Asia.
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