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Peoples and Histories

Jean Gelman Taylor

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Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world. It comprises more than 17,000 islands inhabited by 230 million people who speak over 300 different languages. Now the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia remains extraordinarily heterogeneous due to the waves of immigration—Buddhist, Hindu, Arab, and European—that have defined the region’s history.

Fifty years after the collapse of Dutch colonial rule, Indonesia is a nation in the midst of dramatic upheaval. In this broad survey, Jean Gelman Taylor explores the connections between the nation’s many communities, and the differences that propel contemporary breakaway movements.

Drawing on a broad range of sources, including art, archaeology, and literature, Taylor provides a historical overview from the prehistoric period to the present day. The text is enlivened by brief “capsule” histories on topics ranging from pepper to Maharajas to smallpox.

This ambitious book—the first new history of Indonesia written in over twenty years—will be essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Southeast Asia and the future stability of the region.

Jean Gelman Taylor is a senior lecturer in history at the University of New South Wales.

“Jean Gelman Taylor has written an authoritative, accessible and interesting book that brings a new vividness to Indonesian history. She guides her readers on an absorbing journey through Indonesia’s complex past. Her original approach has produced a work that will engage the general reader, stimulate the student and challenge the specialist.”—Barbara Watson Andaya, University of Hawaii

“Clear, erudite, and authoritative, this book provides a rich coverage of the vast tapestry of Indonesian society.”—Ben Kiernan, author of The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge

"This innovative social history challenges conventional Indonesian historiography and sets a new standard. With an eye for telling details and based on an impressive erudition this elegantly written book traces the diverse origins and fascinating historical trajectories of various groups of people who, due to shared experiences under colonial rule, eventually recognized each other as fellow Indonesians. Indonesian Histories is the best introduction one can think of to the dynamic complexities of Indonesia’s past.”—Henk Schulte Nordholt, Professor in Modern Asian History at the University of Amsterdam and the Erasmus University Rotterdam

“Finally a social history of Indonesia to inspire scholars and students alike. Taylor’s new book is ground-breaking: it takes us on a journey from the earliest material cultures of the archipelago to Indonesia’s turbulent present. In this grand sweep we meet ‘mobile men,’ ‘female freelancers,’ prophets, and revolutionaries. We learn about salt and birds’ nests, smallpox and slavery. A book that opens out to world history and shows just how deep the current fascination with globalization goes.”—Laurie J. Sears, author of Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales

“Taylor’s new book is groundbreaking: it takes us on a grand journey from the earliest material cultures of the archipelago to Indonesia’s turbulent present.”—Laurie J. Sears, author of Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales

"[Indonesia] is one great historical essay. . . . This format works extremely well for Indonesian history, for this is a history of diverse cultures and peoples for whom some sense of unity and commonality must be established without blotting out their distinctive paths toward national unity. . . . The result provides insight into the many levels of Indonesian history and society."—Choice

"A rich and fascinating excursion into Indonesian history that is guided not only by the usual commanding authority of political events, but by the story of how different peoples, as communities, have interacted over the centuries to produce an Indonesia that, although diverse, can also be called a nation. . . . [Taylor] is fair-minded and does not hold back on presenting the dark side of some phases of Indonesian history."—Foreign Affairs

“Taylor’s new book—Indonesia—covers the whole span of Indonesian development from prehistory through World War II andd independence to today’s movemments to break away from the archipelago-wide government. . . . Her argument is concise and convincing.”—History: Reviews of New Books

“An accessible, engaging, and masterful single volume history of the Indonesian archipelago. . . . We can be thankful to Taylor for writing such a splendid contribution to Indonesian history, and to Yale University Press for producing this handsome volume.”—William Cummings, Itinerario

"[A] richly textured narrative. . . . Gelman's strategy for telling 'histories' (and geographies) is particularly instructive and rewarding."—Sylvia Tiwon, Journal of American History

"[Taylor] attempts to write a comprehensive social history devoid of bias or point of view—national, political or otherwise. She goes about it with a rigorous intellect, keeping a careful eye on every aspect of her undertaking. . . . Taylor’s rigorously factual view of history and her far-ranging research should give her book a prosperous life as an undergraduate text. Her approach challenges and opens the mind. . . . Taylor is a voluptuous writer."—Jaime James, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A terrific book—literate, learned and humane. Taylor succeeds in wrapping over 2,000 years of Indonesian history into a single narrative that carries the reader easily from beginning to end. . . . Taylor’s Indonesia isn’t a static entity—it is a riot of colour and change and movement. This book gives the reader a graphic sense of how complicated Indonesia and its history really is—in all of its many manifestations. . . . A potent teaching tool. . . . This will be a book that Indonesianists will use for many, many years to come.”—Eric Tagilacozzo, Southeast Asian Studies

“Taylor’s superb study reveals a historian at the peak of her craft and in command of the field. She presents a welcome and compelling revision of established orthodoxies and has crafted what will certainly be the text of choice for the next generation of Indonesianists.”—Jeff Kingston, The Japan Times

"[Taylor] has staked out a lot of ground to cover and does so, by and large, creditably. . . . Taylor allows us to do something we too seldom do: to see by way of history—clearly and delicately—meanings as large as monuments right before our eyes."—Patrick Smith, The Nation

“Ms. Taylor . . . surveys the archipelago’s struggles from prehistoric times to the present, offering a succinct but rich account of how various cultures have influenced and interacted with one another over time.”—Michael J. Ybarra, Wall Street Journal

“Here at last is a comprehensive social history of Indonesia that can be guaranteed to engage students and the general reader. Ingenious “mini-essays” replace footnotes as a way to ensure that individuals (notably women), controversies, themes outside the national metanarrative, colourful episodes and technical explanations receive their due. Taylor is interested in the texture of the lives of all the diverse communities that inhabited the world’s greatest archipelago, and keeps a good balance between winners and losers, between indigenous, Chinese, Indic, European and Islamic influences, between continuities and changes, and between the various periods from pre-history to the independence of East Timor. It will make an important difference in the classroom.”—Anthony Reid, author of Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce  

Selected as an outstanding book by University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries
ISBN: 9780300105186
Publication Date: September 10, 2004
448 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
23 b/w illus.