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The Temporalities of Southeast Asian Historiography  

Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan

Temporalities are ways to organize time. Historiography, which can be defined as the manner in which people approach, understand, narrate, and give meaning to the past, is intimately connected to temporality. Temporal devices like calendars and genealogies produce specific patterns of time that structure historical knowledge. The traditional historiography of Southeast Asia exhibits a great diversity of temporalities. In contrast to modern historical temporality, in which the unitary timeline is overwhelmingly dominant, Southeast Asian temporalities can just as easily be organized in terms of lineages, cycles, or prophecies. These methods for organizing time can be traced to the region’s Austronesian and Austroasiatic heritage, as well as to the influence of other parts of the world, such as India, the Middle East, and China. Ultimately, these global systems were adapted to local situations and concerns. Southeast Asian historiography can be analyzed in terms of the different temporalities that it uses. Such an approach can make better sense of why Southeast Asians chose to write history in the form of annalistic chronicles, dynastic genealogies, saintly biographies, messianic prophecies, and many other genres. Importantly, understanding the temporalities of Southeast Asian historiography allows one to appraise it on its own terms rather than to prejudge it through the norms of modern professional history.