AAS Member Spotlight: Anthony Reid

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Dr. Anthony Reid, Professor Emeritus, Australian National University

Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and SE Asia

How long have you been a member of AAS?

46 years

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

I became a life member when teaching at Yale in 1973-4, because I was excited by the contacts, connections and opportunities represented by its conferences, in particular. That has proved a brilliant bargain for me, if not for AAS. I was inspired by that experience to help create an Australian equivalent in 1976. I am duty bound to advise Australian residents to join that Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA), but we cannot match the buzz of an AAS conference. One of my last, in 2010, created a further reason for gratitude by giving me an award. I owe it much.

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

One childhood acquaintance with Indonesia, one undergrad course in Wellington, New Zealand, and the excitement of meeting Colombo Plan students from Southeast Asia got me hooked.  I entered the field through my doctoral dissertation in Cambridge.  

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

The unexpected discovery of having my work appreciated, translated and debated. 

Tell us about your current or past research.

It began with a dissertation attempting to use colonial sources for an Asia-centric study of a 19th century colonial war (in Aceh, Sumatra). While teaching in Malaysia, my first job, I then became interested in the revolutionary experience of North Sumatra in 1945-6, and how this radically separated Indonesian from Malaysian experience and identity. The next phase, in the 1980s/90s moved to the Early Modern period in Southeast Asia as a whole, excited by the potential of a Braudellian approach to understanding this maritime region. Besides SE Asia in the Age of Commerce (1988-93), this generated spin-off interests, and edited books, in gender, slavery, the Chinese minority and its Jewish comparison, religious change and Islamization, population, economic history and long-term development. The last decade has seen a greater interest in environmental history and the challenge of bridging historical and scientific understandings of the longer-term history of the 'ring of fire'. 

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

Spend substantial time in Asia and develop networks there. The role of the teacher of Asian Studies has become ever more that of a broker and maker of connections, not a repository of knowledge.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

I began my career teaching in Malaysia, and ended it teaching and administering in Singapore. In between, besides the basic home base of Canberra, there have been substantial periods in the US, UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, Japan and of course Indonesia. Not surprisingly, therefore, I abhor nationalism and try to think and write as a global citizen. 

"Spend substantial time in Asia and develop networks there.  The role of the teacher of Asian Studies has become ever more that of a broker and maker of connections, not a repository of knowledge."

— Anthony Reid