Fields of interest

  • Modern Southeast Asian history;
  • Cultural history-History of mentalities;
  • Historiography and memory;
  • Manuscript studies

Research themes

  • Religious and political authority;
  • Religion and territory;
  • Memory of violence;
  • The uses of history;


My overall interest goes to the circulation of ideas and objects in Southeast Asia. I analyze the processes of reception, appropriation, and creation, at different levels (local, regional, global) in order to understand the societies which receive or create these ideas and objects, in particular from a long-time perspective.

For my Ph.D (2013), I worked on the islamization of the Southern Philippines and focused on the social and cultural changes brought by the new religion on a long time perspective. Studying the administration and the spatial organization of the sultanates, then analyzing their myths of foundations, I showed to what extent the sultanates of Sulu and Magindanao-Bwayan participated to the cultural world of the Southeast Asian sultanates (also called Malay sultanates) and, in a larger frame, to the Muslim world. The book based on his thesis will be published in 2019 by the Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO).

My new research project considers the evolution of the ideas of territory, sovereignty and authority in the Malay world (17th-20th). In parallel, I am working on the memory of past violence in Indonesia and its transformation in a context of migration (1965-2017).


Research projects 

1. Authority and power in Southeast Asia: Reassessing Euro-Asian relations, concepts of land and borders (17th-20th).  

(Monograph project, Harvard Asia Center post-doctorate August 2018-June 2019)

This research aims at reassessing Euro-Asian relations in several Southeast Asian sultanates located in present-day Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines, from the 17th to the early 20th century, through a close analysis of diplomatic usages considered from a local perspective.

The study proposes to use official documents produced in the Malay language (lingua franca) – letters, treaties, contracts, leases – as well as iconography, and to analyze the concepts of authority, power, rule, sovereignty they may carry or represent.

This work intends, first, to uncover the ‘political cultures’ implied by these usages in the perspective to get a better understanding of the relationships between Europeans and Southeast Asian rulers and to go beyond the simple dichotomy of superiority versus inferiority. Instead of domination, which already set the mode of interpretation, the study will use negotiation and conciliation as a frame of analysis to consider the versatility of the relation.

Discussing the concepts of power, authority and sovereignty, this work intends to uncover the implication of words and acts in diplomatic and trading relations between Southeast Asian rulers and their counterparts, to bring new lights on Euro-Asian encounters and potentially reshape our understanding of its nature. Of particular interest will be the change in the conceptualization and usage of land.

>  Authority in Southeast Asian Muslim polities 17th-20th (May 2016-June 2018 – Completed, article in preparation)

Symbolizing and performing authority in the Malay sultanates. A study in visual history. Part of the research project Autoritas – Aesthetic of authority in South and Southeast Asia, CASE/CEAIS/EFEO, Paris 2016-2018.

2. Memory and historiography in Southeast Asia 

  • Traveling emotions. A history of trauma through generation and space

The present project proposes to use the concept of mobility, as a paradigm of research, to study memory (Erll 2011) and more broadly the emotions which define and carry it. It intends to consider mobility in its spatial and temporal dimension, by analyzing the way the memories of an event are produced in different places (homeland and welcoming land), and by considering the intergenerational transmission which happened through “mediation” and “remediation” (Erll and Rigney 2012). By doing so, the research intends to bring new insight into the classical field of research on the migration of people and the circulation of ideas in Southeast.

Defined as the capacity to keep information, memory is used to actualize passed impressions, producing memories. It is therefore highly dependent on the present situation and the subject himself, that is to say, its socio-cultural background and subjectivity. This research will (re)consider the mobility of people – students, displaced people, refugees or exiles – in the context of the Cold War, following a major event in Indonesia, the 1965 attempted Coup. It will question memory production and transmission, over several generations, taking into consideration the role played by forced or spontaneous migrations in these processes, following the path of the transnational turn in memory studies (De Cesari and Rigney 2014).

On 30 September 1965, an attempted pre-emptive Coup ended with the murder of six generals, an event which brought Indonesia into a political crisis causing – in less than 5 months – the death of an estimated 500 000 people, tens of thousands of prisoners and the overthrown of the president Sukarno, one of the leaders of the non-aligned countries. In the first days following the event, the new regime led by the general Suharto imposed a version of it, spread through different Medias, and prevented any other contradicting narration. What happened next, which belong to the dark history of violence in Indonesia, had been treated equally: no personal narration outside of the State-sponsored version.

The political history records the saving of the nation from the communists by the army. It has been canonized in statues, museums, and films, not to mention specific terms and language. In this highly politicized context, the personal history remains largely untold as the State only grouped the masses under the labels of heroes and traitors, savers or dangers.

In the years 1990’s, several narrations were however produced by political prisoners then by exiles, people who were “prevented from going home” (orang terhalang people). The first were displaced from home to prisons or/then camps. Living ‘unsettled’ for several years. The second was forced to move from one place to another, living in a situation of exile, often qualified as being a perpetual one.

The present project intends to study the cultural production made by these people, their descendants and the new generations born with no direct memory of 1965. The research will question:

  1. The relation to the homeland and the impact of travels, encounters and other cultures on that relation.
  2. The transmission of memory to the next generations and the role played by distance (in time and space) into this process
  3. The perception and status of the cultural productions within the welcoming country and the homeland.

It intends to be both a contribution to memory studies – by studying the transmission of trauma through generations – and to the history of emotions by using trauma, silence, fear, and hate as conducting our reading and inquiry. Indeed, these cultural artifacts will be taken not as sources per se for reconstructing the events which happened in 1965 but as traces of the past and the present of emotions. Therefore, they will be used to understand the long-standing impact of 1965 on Indonesian generations.

  • Bagong Kasaysayan beyond Nationalism: a Case of Intellectual and Practical History in the Philippines.”  (2015-2018, completed – collective issue in preparation for 2019)

Project The making of public history in Asia, with Kathy Wellen (KITLV) and Maitrii Aung-Thwin (NUS)

Beyond nationalist discourses and politics of identity, public history is studied as a trace of the history of mentalities in a pan-Asian context. Sub-topic: Public history and collective memory; Bagong Kasaysayan: historiography and public history in the Philippines

Moreover, this field of research is considered as inclusive. Therefore, the present project considers public history in connection with other disciplines such as manuscript studies and heritage studies. By doing so, it intends to bring new perspectives to the above-mentioned fields. Sub-topic: Public history and interdisciplinarity